Chronicles of Khaldun: Crux of Eternity

Recognition of a Man, Part 1

Godsday, Needfest 4, 553 CY (51 AN)

There is a brief moment of confusion where Bosabrieln looks around for Vianibrar, having just heard him a handful of seconds ago. It isn’t long before his gaze settles on the coat settled over Vianibrar’s harp and rapier that his mind finally parses what he’s seen. He bundles the coat and Vianibrar’s things, careful not to shake out the dust, raises his face to the sky and howls, tears streaming down his face.

The others are kind enough to give him a minute, but there’s still more to be done. Moridal puts a hand on his shoulder and brings him back to the present, and the group sets out: Ashurta, Barnabus, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Gloomblight, Moridal, Peren, the Shield Guardian, Torinn, and Torugar fan out into the city.

It takes several hours, but they manage to slay or chase away the dark elf invaders. (The invaders are clearly demoralized by the coming of the sun; they know something terrible happened at city center, and their ability to creep through shadows is curtailed by the dismissal of their goddess.) The Shields of the Sorrowfell run into a guardsman — Torinn recognizes the man who left the note at their inn room several weeks ago — who indicates that he has not heard from Captain Bole, but he expects the Shields will be exonerated in the aftermath of this. He’ll keep in touch as the week proceeds.

After hours pass and their bloody work is done, they leave one dark elf assassin alive to be questioned by the authorities. They also divide some of the things they found, including some ritual components and a handful of riches. They give most of the assassin’s gear to Moridal, while Sleet takes her boots of elvenkind (as well as the goddess’ silk, for which he pays). Torugar takes the goddess’ dagger, Cold Heart, as well as a few other items for safekeeping or disposal. Sleet flies off to try to organize disaster relief — he ends up bringing food and Vonseloth clerics throughout the following week — while Gloomblight leaves to complete reports and other business. Torugar wanders off into Scandshar, but says he will no doubt return later in the week.

The Shields of the Sorrowfell and Moridal wander towards The Troll and Fish to go drinking. When they arrive, they see Jax’s goliath and minotaur associates dumping dark elf corpses outside the bar. When they enter, it seems Jax’s gang is all here, including Scarlet Jax herself. Bosabrieln was worried she didn’t make it, but she says they didn’t stick around; they fought their way through dark elves and started trying to evacuate. When it was clear the emergency was over, they returned.

Over drinks, the group discusses matters. Scarlet Jax makes several jokes about turning in the Shields for the bounty. Bosabrieln asks Moridal if Vianibrar ever discussed funerary plans. Moridal responds that he said they should bury his body in the square of Nainimdul and erect a stone obelisk over it, a middle finger raised against Nainimdul and the world. Bosabrieln agrees.

The group drinks and talks until the Shields decide to head to bed. Moridal heads off to find Gloomblight while the Shields find a vaguely secluded spot in the street to cast Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion and sleep for the night. (For the most part. Bosabrieln doesn’t sleep all that well.)

The next morning, and throughout the next week, the Shields of the Sorrowfell are called into meetings in front of Parliament to determine what just transpired. (In addition to the deaths of Bonatos and Vianibrar, other notable casualties include Captain Evell Bole, Count Finlay Brissot, Darstina Tallcrippler, as well as the surviving members of The Platinum Claws: Sariel, Cliff, and Blank.) Key players are the Countess Saoirse Brissot (abolitionist and wife of the late Count Finlay Brissot), Lady Victoria Loveless MacBeth (leader of the Scandshar branch of the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks under the name “Lord Key”), and a surprising showing from Vicomtesse Laughter Markosian Helltalon. While the Helltalons are known for supporting the clerics on Temphill, Laughter specifically makes an ecclesiastical argument for the Shields’s actions: they are too powerful for a mere mortal city to regulate, and we must trust in the gods to have the people’s best interests at heart.

Speaking of the gods, Laughter Helltalon also notes that a literal goddess of slavery has walked the streets of Scandshar, so it seems a prudent time to revisit the slavery question. If they are so corrupt a drow death goddess can walk their streets, is that not a message from the gods? In addition to the general opposition of House MacBeth, House Kardec and House Silversgleaming also seem to be generally opposed, but the idea of emancipation has gained a significant amount of traction.

Meanwhile, during the week, Bezaldooz summons a new familiar: a familiar spirit from the Feywild, taking the form of a strange little spider named Goruthrel. It is a much kinder and gentler presence than Bonatos for certain.

Bosabrieln organizes a feast to meet up-and-coming minstrels in the city, as well as various notable personalities in Scandshar. The Shields pitch in and he ends up having an attendance of about 1,000. It’s a wild time.

Torinn also purchases more pitch to blacken his armor. He also notices rumors on the street, the occasional onlooker calling his axe “Drusilla God-biter.” He cannot remove the black stain of blood from the blade where he struck the killing blow to Kiaransalee, no matter how hard he tries. (For that matter, is the stain spreading?)

During the week, Torugar finds the Shields of the Sorrowfell to exchange some of their goods for coin. He likewise delivers something — he apparently spoke with the storm giant Dessa and somehow smoothed things over, so he presents her belt of storm giant strength to Torinn. Likewise, Moridal informs them that there is to be a wake for Darstina Tallcrippler and Vianibrar in Duchy Jepson next week, once the Shields’ tasks in Scandshar are complete.

On Moonday, Fireseek 3, Bosabrieln finds himself ambushed in a temple of Corellon by a random, frizzy-haired human woman. He sends his guard contingent away to speak with her, and the group eventually reconvenes at The Perfumed Garden. The visitor inadvertently introduces herself as Ribbon, a compatriot of Barnabus Sleet and Pete Loudly. She has apparently been trying to track the Shields of the Sorrowfell — first for the bounty, then when she realized they were also anti-slavery and trying to dismantle the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks. Ribbon has apparently been trying to infiltrate the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks and assassinate Victoria MacBeth, with mixed success. (Bosabrieln, for his part, reveals his own personal aspirations to have sex with Barnabus Sleet.) During the course of the conversation, Ribbon speaks with a companion on her magic ring to join Bosabrieln and Ribbon; within a half hour, a slender, silver-haired elf woman named Sapphira joins them. She seems a little perturbed that Ribbon used her real name and didn’t warn her to come in disguise, but her irritation soon passes, and she is pleased to meet Bosabrieln.

Towards the end of their meal, Ribbon invites Bosabrieln back to their inn room, and he agrees. However, the drunken Bosabrieln falls asleep in short order, and his guard contingent eventually comes to take him to his own bed, leaving Ribbon and Sapphira to their own devices.

By the end of the week, Parliamentary inquests are ongoing, but the Shields of the Sorrowfell are allowed to leave, and their names are cleared. Their bounty will be redistributed to public works and the rebuilding effort. (It sounds as though the bounty on the Scandshar Six will similarly be redistributed, although their legal status is a little murkier.) Bosabrieln has plans to perform some manner of ceremony for Vianibrar in Nainimdul, but first, they will attend the wake in Duchy Jepson. (They want to speak with Lord Key, or assassinate her, or whatever the case may be, but they decide that can wait for now.)

With that, the Shields of the Sorrowfell disembark for Duchy Jepson on Earthday, Fireseek 6, arriving at the teleportation circle. Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Peren check in with the Duchess while Torinn goes to investigate the secret sanctum in the basement of the Wizard’s Tower.

Once finished, Peren heads to the Headmaster’s office to examine the spelljammer parked outside. Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln arrive shortly thereafter to catch up with the Headmaster and exchange news. When they exit, they run into Torinn and reconvene, eventually heading to The Addled Alchemist. Meanwhile, Peren manages to determine the workings of the spelljammer helm, and suspects he could attune it and operate it.

Since Ekaterina has not been seen since Torinn told her to leave, Bosabrieln contacts her by sending, saying, “Mayhem in Scandshar over, names cleared. Your choice, come back when you feel it is time.” She merely responds with a simple and noncommittal, “Noted. My condolences.”

The next evening, Freeday, Fireseek 7, the Shields gather at The Addled Alchemist with several of the faculty and staff from the Wizard’s Tower. There is one face they have not seen before, a halfling dressed as a farmer or shepherd. Bosabrieln makes introductions, and she introduces herself as Myrtle Manygoat. Over the course of the conversation, he learns that she was friends with Darstina Tallcrippler (he suspects they were lovers), and that Darstina left instructions with Myrtle a couple of weeks ago should something happen to her. Myrtle was to direct the Shields of the Sorrowfell to a Chernog Bogdanović in The Lady’s Ward, Sigil. She gives an apartment address.

The wake is as raucous as one might expect, with people trading Darstina and Vianibrar stories. Despite the sorrow, it’s a fine time, and many baudy stories tumble out as the drinks flow.

The Shields leave early the next morning, Starday, Fireseek 8, arriving at the teleportation circle at Vianibrar’s house. Torinn waits behind with his Shield Guardian while Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Peren begin the short trek to Nainimdul.

When the trio reaches the town square, Bosabrieln takes up an old Elvish hymn. Many of the townsfolk come to his beautiful singing and join in, clearly understanding why he’s here. Once a large segment of the town has arrived, he takes the opportunity to chide them for not recognizing Vianibrar — regardless of their attitudes toward the cities of Men, this problem would have come to them eventually, and so they should be thankful that someone out there was paying attention. This lecture loses the crowd, but he manages to gain audience with Simsel, a representative of the Tree Council, the governing body of Nainimdul (and one with which outsiders and halfbreeds are not allowed to meet; Bosie has never even seen the Tree Council, and he used to live here). Bosabrieln discusses plans for Vianibrar’s monument, but Simsel refuses a stone obelisk. He is willing to allow Vianibrar’s remains to be interred in the town square, outside of tradition, but the monument must be living wood. Bosabrieln tries to make demands to make it notably phallic, but Simsel refuses. Bosabrieln finally concedes a pine tree, to which Simsel agrees. He says the arrangements should be complete in a day or two. As for Vianibrar’s house, they will let the forest overtake it in time. The teleportation circle is to be dismantled, which Bosabrieln says he will do; Simsel grants his request.

The Shields spend the next couple of days at Vianibrar’s house. While Bosabrieln still conjures Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion, he deigns not to sleep within it while they’re here, instead staying in Vianibrar’s house. Simsel summons the Shields on Sunday, Fireseek 9, for the ceremony. A couple of elf women — shamans or druids by their mode of dress — sing to the dirt to move it, and inter Vianibrar’s clothes, caked in the dust of his remains. Bosabrieln says a few words, the women cover the clothes, and they then plant a couple of seeds over the site. They begin singing to the seeds, and over the course of an hour, they grow into a twisting, intertwined pine tree.

Satisfied, Bosabrieln takes his leave, as do the rest of the Shields. Back at Vianibrar’s house, they spend one more night before Bosabrieln locks the door, and they discuss what to do next. The Shields decide to investigate this Chernobog fellow, so they teleport to Scandshar, and use the (now somewhat wilted) desert rose to access Sigil.

Arriving in Sigil, early on Moonday, Fireseek 10, they decide to head for The Lady’s Ward. They quickly surmise they are again being followed by cranium rats, but after some deliberation, decide to proceed with meeting their contact anyway. They arrive at a nicely-appointed apartment block, complete with a doorman. Bezaldooz sends his spider to scout, but with the blinds drawn, it is able to discern very little. Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Torinn go upstairs while Peren waits outside and tries to hide in an alley using materials at hand. Torinn waits on the stairwell while Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln go upstairs. They knock on the door and are greeted by a staid tiefling dressed as a butler. As they are circumspect about their names, he tells them to wait a moment and closes the door. They wait; the peephole briefly darkens, and Bosabrieln feels something probe his mind. The door then opens revealing a red-haired nobleman with a pointed goatee. He apologizes for the spellcraft, but notes that one cannot be too careful. He would take it they are the Shields of the Sorrowfell, and invites them inside. They call up Torinn, who sends a message to Peren, summoning the surprised Peren inside the apartment.

Before long, they are all in the man’s apartment. He introduces himself as Chernog Bogdanović, and before they proceed, he asks if they were followed. They explain their cranium rat problem, and while he doesn’t think it’s connected, he performs a brief gesture and incantation before he seems to “skip,” as if he gained a few extra seconds the rest of the room did not. He says they should be reasonably secure, and Bosabrieln offers to use Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion as a secure meeting place. They agree.

Once within, Chernog Bogdanović explains that is not his real name; he is instead Bogdan Dorgumir, a name Peren recognizes as an old member of the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks — no longer with the organization — whose name is only occasionally mentioned, and usually with a degree of hushed disdain or loathing. (Or perhaps, fear?) Torinn pointedly asks if Bogdan is a vampire, to which he replies that is a complicated question: he is vryloka, a living vampire so turned by the Red Witch. A vampire as Torinn means, however? Likely not.

Bogdan explains that the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks performed a purge of its ranks about fifty years ago, right around the Cackledread War (the Peacocks call it, appropriately enough, “The Purge”). Apparently, anyone who had sensitive information but was not trusted to keep it was violently purged from the Peacocks — disappeared or mind-wiped as so often happens to their enemies. Bogdan caught wind of this and thought himself to be on the list, so he proceeded to engineer his own disappearance. He created the persona of Old Tom, and relied on the fact that the Peacocks were disorganized enough to each assume the other took care of him. The gambit paid off, and he has been invisibly roaming the streets of Scandshar as Old Tom for fifty years, quietly building his own information network in that time.

Darstina Tallcrippler apparently learned of his information network and pulled at that thread, working her way up the food chain until she surmised his secret. Of course, by the time she made it to him, he had thoroughly investigated her and was certain she was someone he could trust. Knowing that the Shields were like-minded souls, they both decided to bring them into this secret, as Bogdan has relevant information.

A moment of panic: Bosabrieln tells Bogdan that the Esteemed and Omniscient Peacock Lord apparently perceived him when he performed a legend lore spell on the creature. He does not know if he is being watched. Bogdan says he will deal with that, as there is little that can be done about it now.

Regardless, Bogdan has information that may be of interest to the Shields. The Shields are no doubt familiar with Bree and Eric Goldenear, members of The Law of Fives during the Cackledread War. They apparently had a third sibling, a Bryant Goldenear. While Bree and Eric joined a wizards’ cabal and became war heroes, Bryant joined the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks. He was a somewhat ruthless sort, deadly with a blade. When the Purge came, he disappeared.

In the fifty years since the Purge, Bogdan has located him, possibly the only other living member of the Purge. The Peacocks apparently had him imprisoned in the Asylum for the Mentally Disturbed managed by one Dr. Daclaud Heinfroth in the land of Dominia. He has resided there for the past fifty years.

Of course, it’s hardly as simple as all that: Dominia is located in a distant reach of the Shadowfell known as the Domains of Dread. Dread Domains are strange places, prisons designed for the most wretched monsters the multiverse has to offer. However, when they are imprisoned, the Domains of Dread drag their whole domain into the Shadowfell, residents and all. Those for whom the place is a prison become darklords, veritable masters of their domain but unable to escape. It is notable that such a place is truly a prison — difficult to enter, but even more difficult to exit. A darklord can seal the domain against intrusion, and more importantly, against anyone leaving. They are effectively cosmic roach motels.

It is worth noting that Bogdan has performed a fair amount of research about the Domains of Dread, but has never personally visited one. That’s why he’s been seeking a group he can trust: he does not think he could infiltrate the Asylum by himself, but a crack team like the Shields probably could do so and retrieve Bryant Goldenear so that they may learn his secrets — secrets so important that he could neither be allowed to walk free nor could he be killed. He likewise notes that he does not know in what state Bryant might be found; he could be dead by now for all he knows, although he suspects he is still around.

As for infiltration, Bogdan knows of three routes, in addition to anything the Shields might be able to devise. A ship called Mercy travels on a circuit of the Shadowfell, traveling from port-to-port to pick up those being sent for treatment at the Asylum. It is entirely possible the right tout in Sigil might know a portal allowing access to the Asylum, if one is diligent enough to find the proper portal. Finally, the Vistani are said to know the secret ways in and out of the Domains of Dread, so it is possible they could convince a member of the Vistani to lead the way.

Unfortunately, once one gets inside, it is entirely possible that one must fight one’s way back out again. Darklords frequently know if someone arrives in their domain, especially by use of a spell, and so can close the borders. In that case, the darklord must be slain to reopen the borders, although they do not have to be permanently slain — if a vampire darklord is defeated and takes two hours to reform, for example, then they have two hours to leave the domain before the creature closes the borders again.

Bogdan doesn’t have any more information, although he requests they inform him of anything they learn. Likewise, he would be interested in seeing Bryant again, assuming they are able to retrieve him.

For further information, Bosabrieln casts legend lore on Dr. Heinfroth, receiving the following: “Heinfroth, darklord of Dominia, monster of his own making. His sorrow in Gundarak made a creature never before seen.” Of that information, Bogdan recognizes Gundarak, another Domain of Dread ruled by one Duke Gundar before being overthrown by one Dr. Dominiani and eventually annexed by Barovia, ruled by the infamous Count Strahd von Zarovich. Armed with that information, the Shields decide to take their leave.

After discussion — including a side discussion as to whether they ought to hunt and kill these damn cranium rats — the Shields decide to forgo further research in lieu of action. (They’re unlikely to infiltrate the place quietly after all, so they might as well plan for stealth but assume they’re going to go loud in the Asylum eventually.) Since Bosabrieln is blooded into the Vistani and has Vistani contacts, they decide to go that route. Bosabrieln contacts Zinnauvial Zivkovic, the matriarch of his family, with a sending, saying, “Long time, sister. We’re in Sigil. Need family contacts. If there’s anyone you know, names would be appreciated.” She responds, “Be safe, brother; the reading from seven months ago nearly comes to pass. Olga Zivkovic is telling fortunes in The Hive, the Slags.”

They start walking. While walking through the Guildhall Ward, they are interrupted by a parade of 50-some people, women wearing mourning veils with signs proclaiming they are commemorating the Battle of Widows on some unrecognized, backwater plane.

They eventually make it through the Guildhall Ward and the Clerk’s Ward, finally reaching the outskirts of The Hive. The Slags are a blasted mess, appearing like a warzone. They find two fiends scrapping in an alley and decide to not get involved. Shortly thereafter, an angel wreathed in black flame takes on an entire pack of gnolls; the Shields again wisely decide to avoid getting involved. (Although Peren decides he likes this lawless place.) Searching eventually yields a tent city in an alley, and quiet inquiries lead them to Olga Zivkovic, a young Vistana with a cigar in her mouth reading tarokka for one of the desperate souls at her table. Her left eye is light, the other is dark.

When she finishes her reading, Bosabrieln approaches, explaining his plight. She says she will do it, but she has a task she wishes to complete before she leaves Sigil. Her brother, Vata, fell into gambling with a powerful devil called Tetposmeton — an Amnizu, usually leading legions of Hell, this one is cutting deals with the desperate in Sigil. He apparently bet his soul, lost, and was slain. She requests they retrieve his soul from the devil so that he may avoid the clutches of Hell. Bosabrieln agrees. Tetposmeton apparently runs a gambling den in the Shattered Temple District, on the outskirts of The Hive.

Before leaving, Peren asks for his fortune to be told. He pays 10gp and she flicks ash into her ash tray, reads it, and informs him, “You will see a criminal die with fruit in his mouth.” The Shields take their leave to find Tetposmeton.

They wander the rough-and-tumble streets of The Hive for a time before arriving in the Shattered Temple District. This place looks burned and blasted, apparently being several blocks of bombed-out ruins. A few furtive souls wander here, grabbing building materials before quickly leaving. As the Shields walk toward their destination, one of the following cranium rats attempts to contact Torinn’s mind. As the Shields decide they have had enough of this and proceed to massacre the rats, another couple of hordes of rats boil up from the cracks in the buildings. More startlingly, Torinn feels something else contact his mind, asking in an even voice, “What do you know about the rats?” Bosabrieln and Peren notice someone large — twice the size of a normal man — and robed creeping in a nearby alley. When Torinn runs to engage the hooded figure, he finds himself staring into the face of a massive mind flayer, easily twelve feet tall. As the Shields lay waste to the rats and the mind flayer, the wounded creature projects into their minds, indicating it just wishes to talk. Peren refuses and deals the killing blow, kicking off a wall to sever the beast’s head.

With the rats and mind flayer dead, the Shields continue on their way. They eventually reach a building with some activity centered around it. Out front, three figures guard it, acting as bouncers: they are scaly, simultaneously dragon-like and fiendish. Two are green and carry swords, while the blue one carries a staff. They speak in Draconic, and when the Shields state their business, they seem skeptical, but the blue one sends the green one inside. After a moment, he returns and says the boss will see them.

Inside, the dingy environs look like a drug den, full of desperate people trying to make deals and win money. Holding court at the far end of the room is a grotesquely fat devil with stubby wings and a wide, toothy grin. He waves the Shields over to him, and in an overly-friendly voice, gives greeting: he is Tetposmeton, and has apparently heard of the Shields. Bosabrieln matter-of-factly explains their business, but Tetposmeton is already wheeling and dealing. They disagree with his price of 10,000gp for the boy’s soul, thinking it excessive (although as Tetposmeton notes, despite their claims to the contrary, the boy clearly means something to them, otherwise they would not be here). He offers to trade the boy for the seven souls in Peren’s helmet, and after some discussion, they agree. He has one of his servants fetch a “hag bag” (whatever that is), and uses it to retrieve the souls from Peren’s helmet after a bit of study. He hands over the boy’s soul coin for the Shields to do as they like with it.

Bosabrieln leaves, with a disgusted Torinn leaving shortly thereafter, but Peren remains to ask what else Tetposmeton can offer. As he has access to all manner of things, Peren asks him to acquire a carpet of flying and a Daern’s instant fortress. Peren notes he will not be staying in Sigil, but he plans on returning here, so Tetposmeton ought to go ahead and collect those objects anyway; they’ll fully agree on price when Peren returns.

The Shields leave the Shattered Temple District without further incident — apart from Peren spearing an errant cranium rat when they inevitably return to tail the Shields, this time traveling high upon the buildings to avoid the Shields’ offensive capabilities — and they quickly arrive back in the Slags. Olga is surprised to see them return so quickly, and when Bosabrieln reveals Vata’s soul coin, she asks if it is possible to restore him to life. Bosabrieln agrees, undertaking the rites to break the enchantment on the coin and then casting resurrection over the meager remains Olga has on hand. A surprised and bewildered Vata appears from the remains, thankful to be back and released from the nameless torment of the coin. Olga gives him a blanket and thanks Bosabrieln profusely.

With that, she says she will need a day to prepare, but should be ready to leave tomorrow morning. Bosabrieln tells her he will be staying at The Silver Tankard if she wishes to meet up with them tonight.

Satisfied, the Shields head to The Silver Tankard. Aratha greets them heartily, but quickly surmises that all is not right with Bosabrieln. The pair adjourn to a table to talk while Bezaldooz, Peren, and Torinn all get a table together and prepare to rest for the evening.

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Truth or Consequences, Part 10

Godsday, Needfest 4, 553 CY (51 AN): The Battle of Scandshar

The change is abrupt as Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn leave Sigil with Bono and the Shield Guardian in tow — the air is cold, and the cosmopolitan sounds of Sigil abruptly die as the Shields of the Sorrowfell arrive in an alley next to The Plum Blossom Inn in Scandshar. The sky is darkened by storm clouds, ominously hanging high above, and reflecting the dying sun to cast everything in a hellish, red glow. Carrion birds pinwheel high above central Scandshar as ash dances in the air, coating everything in a dusting of macabre snow. If the Shields lost track of the date, tinsel, holly, and candles still decorate the streets, reminding everyone that it’s the Winter Solstice. Whatever happened, everyone would have been celebrating in the public squares.

The assembled party is dimly aware of screams in the distance, echoing between the buildings, but Peren says the screams are the wrong way. There is a silence toward city center, a terrible psychic weight that drags the Shields in that direction. Every time they glance towards Parliament, they feel the urge to stop, to lie on the ground and die.

They jog through city streets, nearly desolate save for the occasional corpse brought low by stab wounds and crossbow bolts. There is a brief moment of gallows humor when Bosabrieln receives a sending via sending stone from Barnabus Sleet, informing them they have two hours to hide before he turns their heads into the city guard for the bounty. Bosabrieln responds with, “Fucking look outside. Get your ass to Scandshar, while there’s still time.” Bosabrieln recounts Sleet’s message to the others, a problem that seemed very important an hour ago.

They travel several blocks before a flash of heat washes over them, revealing a white-bearded dwarf appears in the street, clad in resplendent dwarven plate, carrying a runic shield and ornate warhammer. He is Torugar, the exarch of Moradin whom the Shields rescued in Flamefall Tower. “You saved my life once,” he says, “Figured I’d return the favor. The gods haven’t abandoned you yet.”

There is no time to stop, so they talk on the run. He thinks everyone was played, part of the dark elves’ shell game that started when the Broken Chain stole the first piece of the divine engine. There have been so many near-misses lately, so many almost-apocalyptic events that the drow were hoping this would get lost in the shuffle, hidden from the gods’ eyes. They were clearly right. He asks the question, “I bet Scandshar could field a single million-gold bounty, but two? Who do you think paid the balance on that bounty, anyway, kept you on the run?”

They can clearly see the dome of the Parliament building when they start to perceive the sounds and smells of engagement: shouts, the clashing of blades, the ozone of spell discharge, the coppery smell of blood. Underneath, a low dirge in the guttural Elvish of the drow. A moment later and they arrive close enough to hear two familiar voices resolve above the din — Gloomblight Spellweaver, desperately intoning syllables of power while Vianibrar sings Elvish battle hymns in the midst of combat.

Seconds before the Shields hit Parliament Square, there are two sharp incantations and most of the sounds of battle abruptly end. Only Gloomblight’s chanting continues, as do the exertions of a small contingent of warriors in combat. The Shields run into the square to find the advancing press of the invaders. At their head, strange and awful and beautiful, is a mostly-nude dark elf woman, clad only in sheer black veils and silver jewelry, a cruel black dagger resting in her hand. To gaze upon her is to know the source of the awful cacophony in everyone’s heads, telling them to submit, to serve the dark elves or die, and perhaps even both at once. Bosabrieln recognizes her awful majesty as that of Kiaransalee incarnate, the drow goddess of death, slavery, and vengeance. She is flanked by two hazy, indistinct figures — perhaps vaguely humanoid — and four massive robed skeletons, each approaching twelve feet tall and with long, apelike arms ending in savage, scythe-like claws, the latter being boneclaws like those fought in Acererak’s tower in the distant past. By Kiaransalee’s side is a robed skeleton, eyes glowing red, a few scraps of blackened skin clinging to slender, delicate bones: the lich the Shields first encountered in the giants’ tomb. Trailing behind is a giant skeleton, the last of those raised in the giants’ tomb. Of the four death giants previously encountered in Stronmaus’ tomb, there is no sign.

Giving that contingent a wide berth are three other dark elves, taking up the low funerary dirge previously heard by the assembled party. One is the wizard whom they previous encountered in the giants’ tomb, the one who teleported the death giants to safety after spending much of the battle blind. The other two are the surviving Lolth priestesses, armed with swords and shields, currently engaged in combat with a wounded yet still-nimble light-haired dwarf: Moridal Delhig, Vianibrar’s old friend, fighting a losing battle against the two priestesses.

Only one other figure still stands before the throng, a strange flickering shadow whose left arm blazes forth with crackling runes of power, wreathed in flame and frost. It is only by the voice, intoning spells, that he is recognizable as Gloomblight Spellweaver. The wrappings binding his arm are gone, although the blaze seems to consume him even as it reaches out to hungrily devour the others.

As for the defenders’ companions, four dwarf warriors clad in the livery of Khuragzar lie dead in the street, cut by cruel blades and devastated by punishing spells. Near the deific avatar are the arms and armor of two more dwarves, surrounded by a nimbus of grayish dust. Their collective gazes finally settle upon a fine brocade coat fluttering in the wind, ash drifting out of the sleeves and neck as it settles atop an elven rapier and an ornate harp, with no further sign of the elf who once owned them.

As the Shields and their allies prepare to leap into the fray, there is a shuddering from Bosabrieln’s pack as a rainbow-colored light suffuses the area. A hulking hobgoblin, proud in battle and clad in burnished armor, appears in their midst, coalescing from the light of the snailstone. He looks familiar, although the Shields cannot immediately place why. Without hesitation, he draws his longsword and begins barking orders.

As the Shields rush into the fray, the two ghosts sweep forward to antagonize Gloomblight Spellweaver as Moridal retreats from combat, falling back on the Shields’ position. Six dark elf assassins pop up from their positions atop the roofs, firing poisoned crossbow bolts into the fray, although their attempt is thwarted from an eerie sensation among the Shields, a momentary awareness of the impending assault emanating from Moridal’s shortsword. The goddess herself steps forward, intoning syllables of power and pointing at Torinn as her ritualist does the same. He feels his heart stutter from the potent necromantic energies they wield, but he refuses to drop. He sends his Shield Guardian forward to attack the goddess, but its fists do nothing to her. The dark elf priestesses move, attempting to bind Bezaldooz, and although one of their prayers is unraveled by a counterspell, the other strikes home, holding Bezaldooz fast. The four boneclaws wade into the fray, teleporting through shadows to take up offensive positions across the battlefield. Peren blows the horn of Valhalla, summoning over a dozen warrior spirits into battle, as he hits the goddess with a flyby attack and runs to a defensive position behind the stage set up in front of the Parliament building. The hobgoblin warlord — now fully revealed as Ashurta, the warlord whose tomb they investigated several months ago — shouts orders, trying to keep everyone alert and tactically aware. The berserkers wade into the fray, taking positions against assassin, wizard, and god alike. Bosabrieln tries to fall back to a more defensible position, intoning Elvish war ballads and confounding several of his foes, as Gloomblight teleports to safety away from the press of ghosts and skeletons attempting to destroy him. Bonatos is obliterated by the goddess’ aura, flaking into a grayish dust, and Bezaldooz shakes free of the paralysis just in time for the lich to intone a single syllable and slay the gnome wizard outright — Bezaldooz’s lifeless body crumples to the ground, only for Torugar to utter a prayer to Moradin and return the gnome to the land of the living. A giant skeleton, still clad in stolen grave goods from the giants’ tomb, runs into the thick of battle and conjures an electrical storm around itself, shocking many present (including its own allies). Torinn wades into combat against the goddess Kiaransalee, his axe biting deeply into her flesh.

There is a swift rush of air as one of the boneclaws’ jaws cracks, its head snapping back — the muscular form of Barnabus Sleet appears in the midst of the battle, and with his voice strange and swift from the lingering effects of a haste spell, he asks, “Who needs punching?” Bosabrieln and Torinn both shout, “The goddess!” as Sleet gets to work, raining blows on the boneclaw and Kiaransalee faster than the eye can track. With the last strike to each, he sends electricity surging through them, blasting them back thirty feet. The boneclaw is sent sprawling into the square while Kiaransalee is blasted through a tent and into the corner of a building, her body hitting with enough force to splinter the wood. The ghosts and boneclaws swarm Sleet as Moridal and the berserkers enter into the fray with the dark elf assassins. The goddess herself again moves to menace the Shields, but Torinn and the Shield Guardian again move to meet her. The drow priestesses are beset by berserkers and attempting to grapple with the lingering effects of Bosabrieln’s glamour, a confusion that renders them largely ineffective for the remainder of the battle. Bezaldooz stands, moves out of the goddess’ enervating aura, and prepares to invoke a meteor swarm — only to be hit with so many counterspells that the spell never materializes. The boneclaws begin carving at berserkers with their bony claws, while one or two of them move through shadows to better positions, with one attempting to close Gloomblight’s escape. Peren rushes into melee with the dark elf lich, retreating before the wretched spellcaster can do too much injury to him, while Ashurta and the berserkers move against drow priestesses and assassins. Bosabrieln ensorcells the drow ritualist with a power word stun, and the drow lich responds in kind, freezing Bosabrieln in place with another blasphemous word. Gloomblight sends the boneclaw before him to sleep by invoking eyebite, and teeters on the brink of unconsciousness as his cursed arm nearly devours him. Torugar invokes prayers while Torinn wades into battle with Kiaransalee. Although she is mighty, the bleak goddess has been slowly worn beneath an onslaught of spells, punches, and blades. Torinn’s axe cleaves deeply, and she discorporates, her dagger and jewelry and silks falling to the ground.

The horrible psychic weight fades. Within a few seconds, the clouds begin to break.

Although the fight is still desperate, the tide definitively turns. Sleet continues his press against boneclaws and ghosts while Ashurta and the berserkers continue to wear away at the dark elf assassins. One, apparently the leader, slinks away to Gloomblight’s position, dropping out of nowhere and slitting his throat. He falls, dead before he hits the ground. The Shield Guardian and Torinn move into combat against the lich, while Peren again tries hit-and-run tactics. The lich uses another power word stun on Peren to freeze him in place, but the distraction allows Bezaldooz to finally fling a fireball into the fray. The drow assassin attempts to flee the berserkers chasing her, trying to make her way to the stunned Peren. A boneclaw similarly grabs a berserker and teleports to Peren’s location. Torugar flings his hammer at the lich, scattering its bones across the square before they crumble to dust and disappear.

With the goddess and lich discorporated, the drow and their allies swiftly begin to fall. The stunned ritualist is surrounded by berserkers and cleaved apart, the confused priestesses are slain by Ashurta and berserkers, the assassins in harlequin masks are killed by berserkers, and two the boneclaws are discorporated by magic and blades. Sleet punches the ghosts off this plane of existence before destroying the boneclaw menacing him. The assassin attempting to reach Peren is overwhelmed by berserkers and magic before she makes it there.

Finally, the field is still. Only one boneclaw remains, asleep near Gloomblight’s corpse, and the Shields surround it and destroy it. Torugar prays to revivify Gloomblight, and the assembled party helps rebind his blazing arm. As the clouds part and the setting sun again shines over Scandshar, Ashurta, Barnabus, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Gloomblight, Moridal, Peren, the Shield Guardian, Torinn, and Torugar survey the damage before moving into the city to pacify any remaining drow legions and assassins within.

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Truth or Consequences, Part 9

Earthday, Sunsebb 13, 552 CY (50 AN)

After several teleportation circles, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn arrive in Argent. They are accompanied by the 60 freed slaves from Caveghost Clan, as well as Obash, Hurm da Wurm, and ten recruited orogs. Argent is not fully restored to its previous glory, but it is a more lively and bustling city than before, managed by the returned torrians.

The assembled party sleeps for the night. The next day, Sunsebb 14, the ten orogs Obash recruited begin grumbling about taking orders from elves, keeping the conversation to Orcish so that they will not be understood. (Although Bosabrieln and Peren both understand Orcish, unbeknownst to most of them.) Obash tells them they are more than welcome to fight Peren; he probably wouldn’t even need elven magic to fight them.

As he’s saying this, Peren hears the conversation and storms over while unsheathing his swords. Although he is a mighty warrior, the lone elf is trapped in the throng of ten powerful orcs — before he falls, he manages to decapitate the first one to speak out of turn, an aggressive male orc named Radbul. When he falls, the rest of the Shields of the Sorrowfell intervene: Torinn starts cleaving his way through them, decapitating a second (a female orc named Luga) and injuring a third while Bosabrieln sings a song of healing to return Peren to health. Bezaldooz launches magic missiles at the rest of the orogs, and they are appropriately cowed.

Obash and Peren drag the bodies out into the woods near Argent; Obash apologizes, as he thought Peren could do it without difficulty.

Later that day, Bosabrieln receives word from Headmaster Jepson that the missive to Barnabus Sleet has been dispatched. He is also cornered by Obash, who asks about slavery — Why are the Shields going so far out of their way to save these slaves? Should not the strong dominate the weak? Why do the races of Men consider slavery “wrong?”

Once Bosabrieln realizes that Obash is earnestly asking these questions, and asking things that Bosabrieln merely takes for granted, he says he’ll have to get back to the orog. Obash accepts this.

Bosabrieln receives word from Headmaster Ebenezer on Sunsebb 15 that contact was made: he’s to meet Barnabus Sleet at The Addled Alchemist tomorrow at noon.

Throughout the day, he also receives other sending reports from Headmaster Ebenezer and Vianibrar that Banda and his pirate band from ’Ichi have apparently agreed to take their pirate ships and blockade the Sorgforge harbor. Any slave ships coming through will be relieved of their cargo and sent away, the crew unharmed and the former slaves repatriated to their homelands.

With the exception of some isolated slaver bands, the combination of the blockade and the destruction of the slaver tribes should almost totally eliminate the slave trade in the Sorrowfell Plains.

Likewise, there was apparently an incident in Cillamar, one of the outlying villages near Scandshar. A pair of elves — one dark-skinned elf with a side cut, and one fair-skinned elf with tattoos — apparently killed an enforcer for the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks, one Noraver “The Meathook” Wyvernjack. His body is missing, and the two elves have not subsequently been sighted.

Bosabrieln conveys these incidents to the rest of the Shields for their interest.

Bezaldooz also summons Bonatos back to him. Bono seems annoyed at the inconvenience of being slain and sent back to the Abyss, but accepts these matters and settles into his normal place on Bezaldooz’s shoulder.

With the Headmaster’s message, Bosabrieln parleys with him the following day. And so, on Sunsebb 16, Barnabus Sleet is drinking in The Addled Alchemist, aware that the bar has largely cleared, when Bosabrieln — appearing via project image — walks inside. They give greeting.

Down to cases: Barnabus Sleet is concerned about one of his friends, Pete Loudly. Pete Loudly is a more potent sorcerer than Sleet, and has capabilities that could potentially end their world. He similarly suspects that Loudly lacks the morality to avoid using these things if pressed; Barnabus notes that Loudly’s plan is to hide scrying compounds in drugs and then get large swaths of the population addicted to spy on the Shields and others.

However, if they can somehow fake the Shields’ deaths and get the reward, Pete Loudly is likely to leave this plane once he has his fun.

Bosabrieln, meanwhile, is concerned about the news that Sleet is going gather forces and take over Scandshar as governor. Sleet notes that despite his army of demons, he’s trying to talk to other settlements in the hopes that revolution can be totally bloodless. Maybe we can institute democracy in the bargain?

He also brings the threat of the drow and the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks to Sleet’s attention. Bosabrieln has heard a low-level enforcer of the Peacocks was recently killed in the outskirts of Scandshar; evidently, the deed was done by a dark-skinned elf with a mohawk. Sleet recognizes the description of one of his companions, Ribbon, but can’t figure out when she ever killed some random guy.

They’ve killed a lot of slavers, though: Pete Loudly bought a castle on the outskirts of Scandshar, and there are layers upon layers of slavers operating out of it and in the tunnels beneath. They’re slowly working their way through.

With a modicum of trust achieved, and both sides reasonably certain the other is earnest about their desires and concerns, Sleet again invites the Shields to his flying castle (although he notes that there’s going to be a fight with Torinn, for sure) to discuss plans against the slavers and various other threats in the Sorrowfell Plains.

With that, Barnabus Sleet flies back to his flying castle while Bosabrieln disappears, returning to his body in Argent.

Bosabrieln conveys his discussion with Sleet to the rest of the Shields. Based on Bosabrieln’s conversation, Sleet seems moderately trustworthy, and his goals seem to align with their own, so they agree to work with him. They plan on meeting at his castle in a few days’ time to discuss future plans.

Their discussions are briefly interrupted by a messenger angel arriving to tell them that something has happened — an incarnate demon lord has come to Khaldun, and those of the Paragon Compact are being summoned to deal with the threat.

However, the angel barely gets to explain before it looks confused, and tells them to wait a moment. It disappears for a minute or two, reappearing to tell them that there has been some sort of misunderstanding and the situation is resolved. The angel departs without further fanfare.

Preparations continue until the night of the Sunsebb 18 when there’s trouble at the Hall of Guardians. As the Shields are preparing for bed, Bosabrieln is disturbed by a strange scuffling noise, and he wraps a blanket around his waist to peek out of his room. He catches sight of a large, hairy beast running down the hallway and down the stairs. Curious, he follows it. The beast is fast; when Bosie hits the common room, it’s already on the street, and has begun to attack the few torrians nearby. An enraged beast, it appears as some manner of humanoid wolf, savaging the few torrians in the vicinity.

The shouts awaken Bezaldooz and Torinn. Bezaldooz leans out his window while Torinn grabs his axe and casts expeditious retreat to be on the street in a flash. Bosabrieln runs back in to dress and grab an instrument.

Bezaldooz begins pelting spells at the monster while Torinn and his shield guardian corner it. Torinn swiftly determines what happened when he notes that Peren isn’t out on the street yet, he is the only one among the Shields to have been bitten by a presumed werewolf in the past few weeks, and the streets of Argent are flooded with the full moon’s light. They manage to knock the beast unconscious — Bezaldooz finally fells it with a barrage of magic missiles — and as suspected, the beast transforms into Peren, now nude and covered in wounds. Bosabrieln, having gone upstairs and only retrieved his viol, returns just in time to see this scene develop.

Torinn takes Peren upstairs while Bosabrieln sets about gathering the dead torrians outside — three, all told — and bringing them inside to revive them and remove any potential curse of lycanthropy that might be upon them.

Meanwhile, Torinn returns Peren to his room and binds him. He finds Peren’s gear strewn about, as if he removed whatever he was wearing when he transformed and fled his room.

The victims are restored to life and cured of potential lycanthropy, shaken but understanding of what has transpired. Bosabrieln cures Peren’s lycanthropy and heals him, prompting the Shields to explain what happened to him.

No further interruptions occur until Shields arrive at Duchy Jepson and then Sleet’s floating castle — a great edifice atop a cloud, surrounded by lazily-pinwheeling demons — on the morning of Waterday, Sunsebb 19. In reference to their previous conversation and Barnabus Sleet’s assertion that they lack access to polymorph, Bosabrieln uses seeming to appear as Sleet himself. They arrive by teleport_, and are welcomed by some programmed messageintro01.wav which Sleet tells them to ignore. (Of note, Sleet appears even more muscular than when Bosabrieln saw him a few days ago.) Leading them to a meeting hall, they get down to cases:

Sleet and his associates arrived on this plane seeking the million gold piece bounty on the Shields of the Sorrowfell’s collective heads, but once arriving, he learned of the depths of the slavery problem in Scandshar and suspects the Shields’ bounty is related to their interference in those matters.

Likewise, Sleet’s associate Pete Loudly has the ability to destroy Khaldun and the ruthlessness to do it if it fits his plans. However, Sleet is reasonably certain that Loudly will avoid doing so if he gets his money; it solves the problem for everyone. And for his part, Sleet doesn’t exactly need the money, so he’s more than willing to split the bounty with them (with the caveat that he cannot give it away — something to do with devouring a dragon’s heart — although he can, of course, exchange it for goods and services). His plan is that he has a series of trees that duplicate any organic object placed within, so he can grow duplicates of the Shields’ heads and present them. If they have access to magic that shields against divination magic, then he should be able to claim the bounty and then they can split it.

Other bits of news: one of his companions — an elf named Ribbon — managed to kill a Peacock and he retrieved the body. They can use speak with dead or some form of raise dead to interrogate him.

They encountered some demon lord whom they accidentally summoned — Sleet euphemistically refers to him as “Juicy J,” which the assembled party takes to be Juiblex. A word of advice: don’t say a demon lord’s name three times. You might summon it.

Barnabus also mentions the Jarrod Memorial Library, his transplanar spell lending library, and invites Bezaldooz to participate.

Negotiations continue over rat steaks, and the Shields agree with this plan. They will duplicate their heads using Sleet’s strange trees, and when he gives the signal, they’ll hide out in Sigil and possibly use other spells to hide themselves.

Sleet also plans on fomenting some manner of populist revolution in Scandshar and assuming the mantle of governor of Scandshar to assist in their abolitionist goals. During this conversation, Torinn gets annoyed with Sleet’s aspirations and rises to challenge him.

When Torinn strides forward and issues the challenge, Sleet also rises. The assembled party steps out into the clouds and battle is joined. As Torinn strides forward, Sleet gestures and incants, and suddenly Torinn’s axe is in his hands. He throws the axe over his shoulder and runs forward, sending a meaty fist toward Torinn’s face. However, Torinn traces a sigil in the air and Sleet’s fist slams against some eldritch barrier; Torinn then invokes another incantation, moving at fantastic speed and running to pick up his axe. The two warriors clash, trading magically-potent punches and withering axe blows. Sleet’s punches send lightning through Torinn and send him flying back, while Torinn’s axe swings cleave deeply into Sleet’s flesh, but Sleet is the one to emerge victorious. When Torinn slumps to the ground, Sleet hefts Torinn’s axe and decapitates him.

As payment for the heads, Sleet gives the Shields of the Sorrowfell a sum of gold and a pouch of diamonds. (Fortunately for them, enough to recoup their losses from several invoked resurrection spells yesterday.) He then takes Torinn’s head and leaves them to use his trees to grow duplicate heads — the process takes eight hours, all told, so they’ll be here a while. Once he has fully sorted his business, he’ll contact the Scandshar Parliament and present the Shields’ heads after giving them ample warning to hide.

The Shields return to Argent on Earthday, Sunsebb 20. Bosabrieln casts resurrection to return Torinn to the land of the living. As a sort of apology to Torinn, Bezaldooz and Torinn use scrying and teleport to find Torinn’s shield guardian. They are successful, finding the construct standing in a field miles from anywhere, facing to the southeast. Moss has started to grow on the feet and a bird has nested on its shoulder. There are remnants of old campfires nearby, although it is clear that the people have subsequently moved on. The shield guardian is otherwise unscathed. Bezaldooz teleports the trio back to Argent.

After discussion, the Shields decide they ought to use divination magic to learn more about their enemies and also find some high-octane magic to better hide themselves when the Scandshar Parliament attempts to scry on them. Bezaldooz casts scrying, targeting one of the escaped death giants, and finds the death giants and a contingent of dark elves — most of them recognizable from the ruins near Tovelka, including the drow lich, the drow priestesses, and the drow wizard — enacting some ritual in a dark subterranean ruin. There is some eldritch interference in the scrying, however, and he is enervated by the effort.

While he does that, Bosabrieln casts legend lore to learn about the dark elf city beneath the Sorrowfell Plains. After ten minutes’ effort, the following message appear unbidden in his mind:

Where the tunnels of Torog and the River of Tears meet, buried deep in the Trials of the Chained, lies the metropolis of Cinlu Tlurthei, the dread domain of the Ate’Do’Afin.

With both the legend lore and the scrying complete, the Shields reconvene and compare information. Afterwards, Bosabrieln prepares to cast legend lore again to learn more about the Esteemed and Omniscient Peacock Lord. Another ten-minute ritual with incense and ivory bands, and the following appears in Bosabrieln’s mind:

Many eyes upon Sorrowfell turn’d, from Realms Beyond it came,
The Esteemed, and the Omniscient Lord of Peacocks, the scourge of
Scandshar, the dreaded parasite upon our curséd Khaldun.
It grows and consumes, and even now, it watches and awaits.
It sees you now, Bosabrieln. You are seen, you are noted.

Bosabrieln awakens with a jolt, telling the others that whatever he did with legend lore resulted in him being somehow perceived by the Esteemed and Omniscient Peacock Lord. While they’re all displeased about it, there’s not much they can do about it now. Argent is a reasonably safe place for them to stay, so they will make do.

The Shields briefly muse on sending Obash and his orogs forth to scout or do something on their behalf, but sending them to Cinlu Tlurthei would still likely take months, and they probably don’t have that much time. Bosabrieln gives them a 3,000gp retainer and says they’ll no doubt get some manner of work for them soon.

After recovering, the Shields decide to head to Sigil both as a potential place to hide and to seek scrolls of mind blank so as to hide from Scandshar scrying agents. They decide to access Sigil via the privy in Sorgforge, and given the brief travel time, they will not disguise themselves. As such, they use magic to arrive at the teleportation circle in the Sorgforge market on the morning of Freeday, Sunsebb 21.

Arriving in Sorgforge, the Shields of the Sorrowfell quickly draw a crowd when someone realizes their identities. Bosabrieln answers a handful of questions as they head toward the foundry district, and then tries to distract the crowd as they give the secret sign and enter the privy to Sigil. However, it’s pretty difficult for even Bosabrieln to distract from the large shield guardian attempting to awkwardly enter the privy, so they eventually just exit despite the waiting crowd.

They emerge in the Lower Ward of Sigil, the sky thick with a light, greasy drizzle. They proceed to navigate the claustrophobic city streets. After being assailed by touts offering to show them the way around Sigil — they decline to pay the fee — and a street preacher pontificating to a skeleton that no apocalypse is forthcoming, the world will continue to twist ever-onward in wretched mediocrity forever, they find their way to the Temple District in the Lady’s Ward. The Shields arrive at The Silver Tankard, and Bosabrieln takes the opportunity to speak to Aratha. She is pleased to see the Shields again, and they exchange news. (She has apparently heard about the bounty.) Bosabrieln asks her about finding the shop of Keboak — the mercane who sought them in the Sea of Howling Souls — and she is able to provide directions. It also seems as though the Shields are likely to stay at The Silver Tankard during their stay in Sigil, so Aratha will see to rooms being prepared.

The Shields head toward the Market Ward and the Grand Bazaar, passing by another street preacher — this time, a large, floating brain with a beak and tentacles. One of its tentacles is adorned with an ornate ring. It appears to be telepathically broadcasting to those around it, impressing them on how their slavery and servitude (largely as foodstuffs) to the grell would best benefit them; most of the passing travelers are completely ignoring its pontifications. The Shields do likewise.

In the Market Ward proper, the Shields encounter a large throng of workers protesting the Planar Trade Consortium. Torinn orders his shield guardian to go first and break the picket line, but when confronted with cries of “Scab!” and thrown rotten fruit, Torinn unholsters his musket and fires it in the air, prompting a panic from the workers. The Shields manage to escape largely unscathed, fleeing a couple of blocks over. They hear shouts as something interferes in the would-be riot, and at least one fleeing person claims it’s “the Lady” — no doubt the Lady of Pain, the only thing approaching a master in Sigil. As the Shields leave the scene, a guard notes Torinn reloading his rifle, and asks if he’s the one who caused all the trouble. Bosabrieln manages to defuse the situation with a well-placed glamour, and the Shields find their way to Keboak’s shop.

Although the main purpose is finding scrolls of mind blank, the Shields have other items of interest about which they wish to ask Keboak. Torinn is interested in buying a bag of holding, while Peren inquires about items such as a carpet of flying, Daern’s instant fortress, a ring of water walking, and several magic blades: the luck blade, the sun blade, and the vorpal sword. Keboak has a bag of holding and a ring of water walking on hand; Torinn trades his backpack of concealment for the bag of holding, while Peren purchases the ring of water walking at a good price. The others will take time to find and money to procure: Daern’s instant fortress and the sun blade will probably cost in the thousands, the carpet of flying and the scrolls of mind blank will probably cost in the tens of thousands, and the luck blade and the vorpal sword will probably cost in the hundreds of thousands (assuming they can be acquired at all). The City of Brass probably has a more robust magical artifact market, although Keboak has fewer contacts there. As for Sigil, Keboak can make the connections and give them a list of dealers in such things, although after making introductions, he recommends that they do the legwork themselves as it is likely to be faster, especially if they have the money to throw around.

With that, the Shields take Keboak’s mercantile list and begin seeking out rare item dealers. Bosabrieln and Bezaldooz primarily do the legwork while Peren and Torinn watch their backs and make certain that none of these occasionally sketchy figures try to double-cross them. They focus on the mind blank scrolls first, since they know Sleet is likely to call upon them all-too-soon and they wish to be prepared.

Sleet contacts them within a day or two, but he is not yet ready to deliver their heads to the Scandshar Parliament. Instead, he offers to give them a scroll of nondetection to assist their endeavors. It takes another couple of days for him to procure the scroll, and for Bezaldooz and Sleet to meet, but the exchange is made and Bezaldooz scribes nondetection into his book.

Back in Sigil, over the next several days, Bezaldooz notes the presence of small, white rats watching them. These rats appear to have small, exposed brains. Although they flee if antagonized, there are always a handful of them watching at any given time. Once he points them out to the others, they likewise noticed these strange vermin. They have encountered them once before, in the sewers of Sigil some months back. The Shields try to establish contact, but to no avail — even Bezaldooz’s new potent telepathy spell cannot make contact with them, although they try to establish contact with him after he casts it. He feels their presence in his mind and manages to throw off the worst of it, but they still indicate that they merely observe and do not appreciate his intrusion.

The Shields of the Sorrowfell finally make contact with a seller and purchase their four mind blank scrolls on Moonday, Needfest 3, 553 CY. Working through the night, Bezaldooz records one in his spellbook and retains the other three as scrolls, and so the Shields find themselves in The Silver Tankard on the winter solstice, Godsday, Needfest 4, contemplating their next move.

That’s when Bosabrieln receives the sending in his head, from the Headmaster. He says, “Wherever you are, you need to come back. Something is attacking Scandshar. It’s bad.” Bosabrieln says they’ll be there soon and he informs the others. They engage in a hurried flight to the Market Ward to buy a desert rose, and then back to the Lady’s Ward to activate the portal between the alley in the Lady’s Ward and the alley beside The Plum Blossom Inn in Scandshar.

When they emerge in Scandshar, the streets are deserted. The sky is shot through the ominous black clouds, and the bitter wind swirls with ash and dust. The air has grown cold, and carrion birds flock and pinwheel high above. There are screams echoing distantly throughout the city, but the signs suggest they should head toward the silence at the city’s center.

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Truth or Consequences, Part 8

Freeday, Sunsebb 7, 552 CY (50 AN)

Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, Torinn, Obash, Hurm da Wurm, and the two remaining goblins (Tobg and Gark) continue down lightless tunnels. After roughly an hour, they see the flickering of torchlight ahead. As the figures approach, the Shields of the Sorrowfell can tell it is a group of tanned humans, bearing the javelins and piecemeal armor of orcs. Most of the Shields and their associates hide, while Bosabrieln steps into the middle of the path and calls out just before the torchlight falls upon him.

The group falls into a defensive position, but quickly surmises the lone half-elf is no threat. The leader, a dark-haired woman named Citlali, indicates she and her band are trying to flee the Underdark. It swiftly becomes apparent that she and her associates are the last of their tribe, no doubt captured as Caveghost Clan passed through the Feywalk Woods. (Although Citlali and her band do not know the woods by that name, and so the two groups have difficulty relating their positions.) Caveghost Clan recently started traveling faster and is clearly heading somewhere; the confusion allowed Citlali and the last of her warband to make their escape.

Citlali estimates Caveghost Clan’s numbers to be roughly 500, with a couple of ogres. They carry roughly 60 slaves with them. The leaders are the orcish warlord, his mate who is missing an eye and is perhaps some manner of priestess, and a shaman who never communicates, only speaking to cast spells. Bosabrieln gives them 100gp and instructs them where to find the sinkhole leading up into Heathwood. From there, she may either travel south across the plains to find her homelands, or travel northeast to find the town of Beeheath. She thanks them and both groups continue on their way.

Another two hours pass, and as the Shields are considering whether or not to bed down for the night, Bosabrieln and Peren see a strange glint ahead — the low ambient light reflecting off a wobbling surface. Bosabrieln shouts, “CUBE!” as they prepare for the onslaught — five gelatinous cubes, traveling down the hallway in a moving wall, consuming all in their path. Battle is swift as the air fills with arrows, javelins, and spells. They are hit with one of Bezaldooz’s fireballs as Peren conjures a wall of fire, prompting the things to change direction. As they slowly attempt to flee, the Shields chase them down and destroy them. They find 21cp floating among the cubes, which they ignore, so the goblins gather the coins.

Although they have been traveling for eight hours, Peren can tell they are only a couple of days behind, and gaining on the orcs. (He likewise notes that by the footprints, Caveghost Clan likely numbers 663, along with two larger creatures. Those are probably the ogres. Among the footprints, he thinks he sees the distinctive, rolling gait of a single mind flayer.) He advises everyone to press forward, so they march a couple of hours until Bezaldooz and Hurm the Wurm are too tired to continue. Bosabrieln conjures Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion, and the Shields rest.

The next morning, Waterday, Sunsebb 12, the Shields continue. After two hours of walking, they mark five large, snakelike creatures, softly glowing red. They carry spears, and look to be salamanders of the sort found in Flamefall Tower. The Shields do not parley; Bezaldooz conjures an ice storm, and the others move in for the kill. A few moments’ confusion, and the deed is done; Peren and Obash are slightly burned from close contact with the beasts, but little the worse for wear. They find 81sp among the strange beings, which Obash takes.

Five hours later, they encounter the incorporeal forms of the hungry dead. They barely even break stride to defeat the seven ghosts, as the creatures fall before blade and spell.

After another hour, Peren takes stock of the situation and wants to press onward; they are likely only a day or so behind Caveghost Clan. The Shields all agree. Torinn takes to carrying Bezaldooz so that they can continue on without interruption.

Another three hours, and just as Bezaldooz is musing about being attacked by hook horrors, a pair of large, vulture-faced, hook-handed beasts creep out from among the rocks. Peren summons a group of fey allies — in this case, diminutive, cloaked, goat-legged goblins he recognizes as darklings — who converge on one of the hook horrors upon his command. Although the hook horror kills one of the darklings, Peren and the other three finally kill it. Torinn and the others make short work of the other hook horror. Peren and his remaining darklings spend a half hour or so carving up the hook horror to harvest its hide.

Two hours pass, and as the Shields are ready to collapse and Bosabrieln prepares to conjure Mordekainen’s magnificent mansion for the night, three spindly, black, humanoid beings made of rock creep out of a seam in the earth. Bezaldooz recognizes them as some form of construct, but wants to sleep, so he vaporizes them with a well-placed sunburst. The Shields enter the mansion and rest.

Bosabrieln is awakened in the night by a sending from Headmaster Jepson, saying, “We need to talk about Sleet. Contact me at your earliest convenience.” Bosabrieln replies, “Noted. Talk in morning. Slaves leaving Underdark via Heathwood.” He returns to sleep.

The next morning, Earthday, Sunsebb 13, Bosabrieln gathers the others and informs them of the sending in the night. After some discussion, he notes he will need to leave the mansion so that he may project image and speak with the Headmaster. Peren and Obash stand guard.

When Bosabrieln arrives in the Headmaster’s office, he is sitting at his desk, working. The Headmaster explains that Barnabus Sleet called together a council of various government leaders in Duchy Jepson, explaining his plan to declare war on Scandshar. He is meeting with the other settlements in the region to request aid. Of note, however, he extracted a letter of introduction from Duchy Jepson, and the Headmaster suspects this will be seen as Duchy Jepson declaring war on Scandshar. The Headmaster felt Bosabrieln ought to know this, lest something happen to Jepson in the meantime. But the Headmaster doesn’t fully know the capabilities of this man Sleet, and so no one in town feels comfortable saying, “No,” to him.

He notes that he recommended Sleet head to Kiris Dahn first, so he might still be there. But he does not know where Sleet is now.

Bosabrieln also reports the Shields current activities for the Headmaster’s consumption. Before he returns to his body, he takes a moment to look out the window and gaze upon the sun again.

Upon his return, everyone returns to the mansion to discuss matters. They don’t make a firm decision, apart from finding out whatever Sleet is up to. Once decided, they continue on their way.

They have been walking for roughly four hours when they are ambushed by a group of man-shaped things. These things have ragged loincloths, stone-colored skin, lank black hair, and spiked bone clubs. Of note, they are completely eyeless. They come pouring out from among the rocks, taking up flanking positions and lashing out at the Shields. They manage to kill Tobg and Gark, as well as injuring Hurm da Wurm, but once the Shields figure out what’s happening, a well-placed fireball and Peren and Torinn make short work of the ambushers.

They travel the rest of the day before they hear the murmuring of many voices. They have successfully found the caves where Caveghost Clan is camping for the night.

While the others find hiding places, Peren scouts ahead. These caverns form a tangle of passages and tunnels. The elite troops — outfitted in plate armor, like Obash — guard strategic points, including the entrance. The two ogres are bedding down near the entrance of the cavern, as well. Soldiers and civilians are scattered throughout the caverns, bedding down for the night. They form a general ring around the slaves, whom are kept in the middle where they can be monitored. In a ruined shrine in the back of the cave, the camp’s leaders have placed a pavilion. They — the chief, his mate, and the silent shaman — are currently making the rounds, making certain everyone is situated for the night.

All told, Peren counts twenty-five elites, twenty-five half-orc warriors, and maybe 200-300 warriors. The count of 60 slaves seems accurate.

He returns to the Shields and reports his findings. They agree to wait, sneak into the camp, and attack it from the rear, working their way to the slaves in the middle.

Once they are reasonably certain everyone is settled, they enact the plan. Their group of six manages to easily enter the cave network and make its way to the back. Finding a shadowed corner, they wait for an opening, and then launch out of the darkness.

Battle is sudden, swift, and chaotic. Bezaldooz opens with a fireball directly in front of the ruined shrine so that it will catch the elite guard and whomever is within. The others rush out of the shadows, and as Peren starts carving through guards, he sounds the horn of Valhalla. Twenty-one mighty warriors appear in the entry to the ruined shrine and begin pouring into the gap. Obash and Torinn wade into combat — Torinn having taken an adrenaline pill recovered from the Sentinel so long ago, and so moving at abnormal speed — as Bosabrieln steps forward to begin ensorcelling orcs. Hurm da Wurm starts harrying orcs with arrows.

The berserkers make short work of the chieftain’s mate, while the chief himself lasts only ten seconds against the rampaging horde. Peren rushes into the shrine to confront the shaman, but is surprised to find that there is only the tentacled face of an illithid in his place. The wounded creature is no match for him, as he cleaves twice into it and severs its head.

The orcish forces collapse after that as berserkers start spilling out of the shrine. Bosabrieln begins ensorcelling orcs with mass suggestion, ordering them to protect the slaves in the middle. Mass confusion erupts as conflicting orders begin flying about. The Shields and their allies make their way towards the middle, where a tense standoff emerges: once some of the orcs realize the leaders are dead and a score of their numbers must be charmed, they threaten to begin killing the slaves. Bosabrieln convinces them that killing the slaves will not spare their lives; the orcs relent.

Convinced that a modicum of order is restored, the Shields gather the slaves and bring them to the back of the cavern where they may be better protected. Gathering in the ruined shrine, they discuss their next move: how will they transport the slaves and what will they do with over five hundred orcs?

Their discussion is interrupted when the berserkers bring the broken body of a skeleton, clad in leather armor and wearing a dagger and a backpack. Torinn presents the dagger to Hurm, figuring he’s been through a lot with the deaths of the rest of his warband, while the others investigate the backpack. They find a sending stone within.

After deliberation, Bosabrieln decides to use it. He conveys the message, “You’ve reached the Shields and you have our attention.” Whomever is on the other end conveys, “The Shields? Perfect! Wait there, I have something to discuss.

A tense ten minutes pass before a creature appears, a robed skeleton with pinpoints of red glowing in its empty sockets. It wears an ornate headdress and has the bearing of a wizard. Peren can sense, however, that nothing is there, and stays Torinn’s hand when he moves to strike it with his axe.

It introduces itself as Lazghul, the Opal of Chaos with the Teeth of Jet and the Dress of Silence. Lazghul notes that he’s not supposed to be around these days, but well, he recently met with the Scandshar Six, and he’s sure they told people, so the cat’s out of the bag. This is roughly when Torinn decides he doesn’t want to deal with this, and leaves. Obash and Hurm follow.

The creature indicates that they have a problem in common: several off-worlders have arrived here, including a wizard named Sleet and another man called Pete Loudly. This motley band of adventurers has traveled across many planes throughout the multiverse, and gathered many resources and allies in their travels. Of interest to Lazghul, Pete Loudly has something he does not want to see used — a piece of Perpetual Ice, something that will freeze any water it touches. If introduced into a body of water, it would rapidly spread to every other body of water, bringing Fimbulwinter upon the world. While Lazghul might be interested in the end of the world and the quiet death of everyone within it, for various symbolic reasons, he does not want this particular doom to come about.

And so he has contacted the Shields in the hopes that they have further information, or that they can plan how to deal with this circumstance.

Lazghul notes that Pete Loudly has bought a few properties in and around Scandshar, including Castle Chilikov. He and his associates — Loudly, Sleet, and a group of four elves — have been delving the slave pits beneath Chilikov, freeing slaves and generally making the standard nuisance. They are currently residing in the Bleak Theater on the precipice of the Underdark, staging expeditions throughout the dungeons beneath Castle Chilikov. They have already disrupted the Iron Manacle, a small slaving outfit working in tandem with the Peacocks, as well as the orcs with whom they were dealing.

He further notes that these people have allies: Sleet apparently keeps an army of demons in his castle, while Loudly has a giant flaming skeleton as well as crew and soldiers for his spelljammer. If they mean to take Scandshar, they might be able to do so.

After some back-and-forth, Lazghul notes they do not have to decide right away, as they have a method of contacting him. Peren, however, notes that they can probably help one another now: if Lazghul can help transport the slaves out of here, he can have access to the 500 or so orcs in this cave. Lazghul would have to wait until the morning to make the necessary preparations, but this can be done. They agree, and Lazghul disappears.

Once the Shields reconvene with Torinn and fully discuss the possibilities of this being a trap or doing a lich’s dirty work, their plan changes. They will use a handful of teleportation circle spells to transport the slaves to Argent. They will warn the orcs that the bogeyman is coming, and they should all flee — tonight — if they value their lives. Even though Lazghul might be lying, most of what he told them jibes with the information they already had, so there is likely some earnestness in what he says. Given how things are escalating, they will have to leave the escaped drow for now, instead investigating Sleet first. Bosabrieln has a plan to speak to Sleet, which he communicates in a sending to the Headmaster; the Headmaster says he can pass it along. Their next plan will no doubt hinge upon however that interaction goes.

As such, they tell Obash to take any orcs he wishes to recruit before they head to Argent. They are going to leave the sending stone behind since Lazghul can probably track it. They consider leaving a note, then think better of leaving too many symbolic ties behind for a master wizard; Peren orders one of the orcs to write the note instead, indicating they had other plans, but when the orc balks, Peren slays him and orders the next in line to do the same. He complies, writing a letter about how the Shields have reconsidered their arrangement.

Before leaving, Bezaldooz takes a handful of dirt from the ruined shrine so that he may teleport back to this location.

With that, the orcs prepare themselves to head deeper into the Underdark while Bezaldooz uses his teleportation circle spell four times to teleport the Shields, sixty slaves, and Obash and his recruits over to Argent.

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Truth or Consequences, Part 7

Earthday, Sunsebb 6, 552 CY (50 AN)

Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn finish their conversation with Galothel, and she takes her leave to begin the journey to Duchy Jepson. Once they are certain they have everything they might need, they prepare to leave. The itinerary: teleport to Sorgforge, then set out for Pottsdam on foot. They realize they have a transit a problem: their party comprises Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, Torinn, Bono, Obash, Hurm da Wurm, and three goblins, one too many creatures to transport in one teleport. They consider dispelling Bono before deciding to let one of the goblins go. While debating the best way to go about it, Bono tells Bezaldooz he’ll take care of it and slinks over to the goblins. Peren senses him and grabs him, tossing him back over to Bezaldooz. Bono tries again, taking a long way around to put the goblins between himself and Peren, but Peren is too quick and Bezaldooz orders him not to hurt anyone. Once Peren has grabbed him, he turns visible and tells one of the goblins, “Boo.” The goblin runs screaming in the opposite direction.

Their problem is, for the moment, solved.

With that, Bosabrieln casts seeming so that they may go about Sorgforge unmolested. (Peren requests that he be made to look like a yellow dragonborn, so he can make fun of Torinn for obscure reasons. The goblins are made to look like unruly children.) They teleport to one of the teleportation circles in Sorgforge, and then set out on the road to Pottsdam.

Roughly two hours outside of Sorgforge, they encounter a lone human merchant traveling from the village of Crethorp with wool skeins. They investigate his wares and end up buying several skeins of wool, particularly since he has some skeins dyed in various colors. Afterward, he continues to Sorgforge and they continue along the road.

About an hour or so later, Bosabrieln receives a sending from Vianibrar, asking if he can teleport or project image or otherwise attend a meeting at “Delhig’s house.” (Bosabrieln recalls that Moridal Delhig is a dwarf merchant in Khuragzar and a former traveling companion of Vianibrar. Bosabrieln hasn’t seen him in almost a decade, but recalls the house well enough.) Bosabrieln agrees and informs the others. They step off the road and wait while Bosabrieln casts project image.

Bosabrieln’s simulacrum appears in the entryway of Moridal’s home, where he hears talking from the sitting room. He arrives to find Gloomblight Spellweaver, Moridal Delhig, and Vianibrar in conversation with Banda and two armed guards. Bosabrieln announces himself (to Bosabrieln’s mild irritation, Moridal exclaims, “Why, it’s little Bosie Peredhel!”) and the various parties give greeting. He learns he was summoned so that he could make proper introductions between Banda and the Zookeepers. During the meeting, he learns that Gloomblight’s activities have been going well. The Zookeepers learned of a slaving operation between the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks and a Lord Vau on the world of Rockulon Prime. Using the portal Dr. Dagger Nazareth traversed to access Scandshar, they managed to infiltrate the world and collapse the gate the Peacocks were using to run slaves between the two worlds. They’ve been trying to repatriate the refugees for the past several weeks.

Gloomblight also makes reference to the current troubles plaguing the Shields of the Sorrowfell, as well as the fact that he’s heard there’s a flying castle in the vicinity of Jepson. (He has heard only a little about Barnabus Sleet, the castle’s master, but understands he has had contact with the local government and the Headmaster). He similarly notes that he’s heard there was an active spelljammer helm sensed within the atmosphere, although they don’t quite know where it was traveling. Bosabrieln similarly informs the others as to the Shields’ current activities, and Gloomblight says he’ll pass the word along to the Headmaster.

The assembled party otherwise discusses current events, and Vianibrar notes that he was pleased to hear the old site of Solaeque was cleansed of its orcish occupants. He shall have to send word to the Solaeque Purlieu so that they may begin the long journey back home.

The rest of the meeting is consumed with trying to ensure the initial contact between the two groups is positive, and ensuring they each know of the others’ resources. Once he is confident that things are going well, Bosabrieln takes his leave.

The rest of the Shields inform Bosabrieln that his absence was uneventful, and so they continue on their journey. The rest of the day is similarly quiet.

That night, in Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion, Bosabrieln receives a sending from Scarlet Jax, which says, “Bosabrieln Peredhel Zivkovic, I can’t believe that you came to Scandshar, set things on fire, became a wanted felon, and didn’t even say hello! Hurtful!” He responds, “My darling Jax, you know had things been otherwise, you’d have been the first I saw. I promise to see you soon. Love, Bosie.”

Having considered the possibility that they’re going to steal Barnabus Sleet’s flying castle, Peren also sets about trying to construct parachutes with the skeins of yarn he purchased and the skins of animals he has hunted. The tensile strength leaves something to be desired, but he’ll keep working at it.

The next day, Sunsebb 7, they continue their trip. This time, they do not bother with seeming on the road, presuming that they can handle anything that comes their way. The day’s travel is largely uneventful until their seventh hour on the road. They encounter a flock of seven axe beaks — large birds like cassowaries, with sharp, flat beaks — traveling across the road to reach the river. The Shields initially give them a wide berth, but Peren decides to attack the birds, which are unable to withstand his magical volley of javelins. The few stragglers that are able to dodge the onslaught are summarily slain. He retains the meat to cook that night.

That night, in Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion, Torinn communes with the holy symbol of Fenmarel Mestarine, praying for understanding.

The next day of travel along the road is uneventful. On Sunsebb 9, around mid-morning, they encounter a much larger merchant caravan, evidently traveling from Scandshar to Sorgforge. They are a little wary given that they have not used seeming and are totally exposed, but they seem to make a good impression on the caravan, who gives them no trouble. (The Shields later reason that it’s probably helpful to have people report their location occasionally, to better obfuscate their travels and true goals.) They peruse the wares, but ultimately settle on the caravan’s store of oddments. Among their curiosities, they have:

  • A lock of blonde hair preserved in glass
  • A brooch crafted from a key
  • An obsidian pawn engraved with a strange, twisting symbol
  • A monocle of green-tinted glass
  • A pewter merchant’s weight crafted in the form of a temple
  • A block of red wax which bears the impression of a strange key
  • An old fur scarf which purrs when you pet it
  • A knot of goblin hair
  • Half of a castle map
  • A dwarven mug engraved with a dungeon map, said to be the Tomb of Horrors

After some discussion, Bezaldooz buys the obsidian pawn and the monocle, Bosabrieln buys the strange fur scarf, and Torinn buys the mug. Several of the Shields end up signing their wanted posters and giving them to the caravan master.

The only tense moment comes when one of the guards keeps eyeing the Shields like he wants to try something, and Torinn tells him to do it, but Bosabrieln and one of the other caravan guards keep the peace.

Once the Shields are satisfied, they bid the merchant caravan farewell and continue their journey.

(Bezaldooz takes an opportunity to closely examine the chess piece; he recognizes the strange, twisting symbol as the mythic Yellow Sign, said to be a fell symbol from dread Carcosa. The chess piece radiates magic, although he cannot pinpoint the source of the magic or the function of the object.)

After another couple of hours, as they approach the village, they encounter another herd of animals crossing the road to approach the river. This appears to be a herd of six steers, although they are covered in metal plates and exhale some sort of nasty green smoke. When they catch sight of the Shields of the Sorrowfell, they turn to charge.

Bosabrieln immediately entraps them within the matrix of a hypnotic pattern while Peren conjures a wall of fire to harry them and slow their approach. The beasts never receive the opportunity to attack as they are kept bewildered and harried. Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln keep them at bay with spells while Obash, Peren, and Torinn wade into melee. The goblins pepper them with arrows from afar. One by one, the beasts fall before blade and spell. The only complication is when Obash accidentally inhales some of the green gas and starts to slow, as if turning to stone; he manages to somehow shake off the effect before he is fully petrified. After being pummeled by spells and blades, the last is finally killed by the goblins’ arrows.

Peren sets about trying to carve some of the hide and meat before they continue their journey. The meat inside the metal plating seems foul, but edible.

It’s only another hour or two before the approach the village. To their surprise, they see the smoke of cook fires rising from the ruins. After Peren casts pass without trace so that they may approach unseen, and they scout to find a merchant’s camp inside the village. The workers appear to have been performing some repairs on the various houses in the village. They similarly note an abandoned house on the outskirts has smoke rising from the chimney. Bezaldooz goes to investigate, and when he peeks in the window, he sees an old, dark-skinned human in robes and a staff sitting on the floor. The man looks right at him despite his attempt to be stealthy and gives greeting, saying he’s been expecting the Shields.

Bezaldooz just smiles, nods, and slips back down from the windowsill.

When the returns to the others and informs them of this, they decide to just enter the village. If everyone knows they’re supposed to be there anyway, what’s the point?

The Shields enter and give greeting to the merchant caravan. The leader, a robed elf by the name of Thasar Ulyan, greets them in return. (The merchants are apparently in the process of rebuilding the town in the hopes of rendering it usable again. Thasar suggests it’s part of his elf clan’s purview to try to rehabilitate a dead place.) When Thasar realizes that they are the Shields of the Sorrowfell, he notes that a stranger came to the village a week or two ago and said the Shields would come. The Shields resolve to meet him, although Torinn seems less enthused about the whole affair.

Before they go, Thasar notes that he owes the Shields a great debt, as he was engaged to Lady Dannae, probably known better to them as Demise. Bosabrieln resolves to speak to him later about it.

The Shields head to the hut to speak with the stranger, although Torinn deigns to stay behind and watch the goblins instead. When they enter, he gives his name as Orhan. He indicates that he has seen them in dreams, and wanted to take this opportunity to meet the Shields in person, because he otherwise might not have the chance. Over the course of the conversation, he reveals the truth: he is not human, but instead a slumbering ancient dragon. (Likely gold, by the sound of it.) He has been tasked with guarding the deathless heart of a Primordial so that it may not be awakened again. A friend (whom Bosbrieln correctly surmises is Bahamut), took his charge briefly so that Orhan could meet the Shields — after all, if he does not take the opportunity while he is awake, they may not be around the next time he awakens.

Given that he has seen many visions in his dreaming sleep, he allows the Shields to inquire about them. They ask about the Esteemed and Omniscient Peacock Lord, given that they have recently learned this is an actual entity. He says he thinks they will meet it in combat, but he cannot say for certain how it ends. Only that it is something ancient, evil, and from a distant place. He cannot answer Bosabrieln’s question whether or not the Shields will regain their former glory, although he suspects their names will be cleared if they continue on their current path.

Bosabrieln also asks if he will become a god, and Orhan says he does not know for certain, as there are many futures, many pasts. He asks if Bosabrieln has met the doctor who drugs him yet? Bosie has not.

They eventually decide that Torinn should probably be involved in this conversation, so Peren goes to retrieve him. Torinn and the goblins have managed to hide in the intervening time, and Torinn is properly paranoid, so he orders Hurm da Wurm to fire a warning shot. When Peren moves to react at the arrow that just whizzed past him, Torinn interposes himself between Peren and Hurm. Once the situation is settled — Torinn is convinced Peren has not been ensorcelled, and Peren is convinced to not murder Hurm, Torinn agrees to meet with Orhan.

Arriving at the hut, he indicates he wishes to speak with Orhan in private. Stepping outside, Torinn asks about the sorcery he has recently developed, as he has manifested spells a handful of times during combat. It feels like a curse, but Orhan says it is merely a part of him like any other. The power may come from some draconic ancestor, or perhaps even a mortal one. It is something to which he will have to adjust, given time, but he has this power for a reason.

Torinn also gives Orhan the tome of leadership and influence, assuming that he will know what to do with it. Orhan notes that it will likely not have its magic again for another century, but he can place it somewhere for safekeeping. Or for someone else worthy to find.

Once they return to Orhan’s hut, the last question revolves around how to find Caveghost Clan. Assuming they run a regular circuit of the Sorrowfell Plains, and it’s been about four months, one would expect them to be nearly halfway through the circuit. As such, there is an entrance to the Underdark near Beeheath. (A frustrating revelation, given that they were at Beeheath only a couple of weeks ago.) Orhan also recommends they seek the Temple of the Snail in Heathwood, as there may be something of use to heroes such as themselves there. When the Shields have no further questions, the group sets about setting up camp for the evening. Bosabrieln pulls Torinn aside to inform him that Galothel was a dragon in disguise, a fact which he did not mention; Torinn punches him in the face in response, but then helps him back to his feet, and the Shields continue their evening without further incident. Bosabrieln opens Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion to Orhan, Thasar, and the merchant company. At some point in the evening, a drunken Thasar returns to the topic of his engagement to Demise. He never much cared for her, as she was cruel, spiteful, not his type, and most damning, his second cousin. Overall, he’s pleased that he was saved from a loveless marriage with her.

There is feasting late into the night. At some point, Thasar shares Bosabrieln’s bed.

The next morning, the Shields prepare to leave for Beeheath. They tell Thasar to spread the story that they are headed to Vonseloth, and Bosabrieln pays him 1,000gp to hire mercenaries to escort the Solaeque elves back to their homelands. Thasar agrees to both errands, and hopes to encounter the Shields again.

After Bosabrieln cloaks them in a seeming (this time, Peren masquerades as a gold dragonborn while Torinn masquerades as an elf and acts appropriately wistful) before Bezaldooz teleports them to Beeheath. They immediately set out for Heathwood, and Peren casts pass without trace to hide their passage.

Animal sounds are few as they wander through Heathwood, although they quickly sight a large timber wolf. Peren throws a javelin at it to no avail, but when he gives away his position, the beast stands on hind legs and shifts into a humanoid form, a mixture of man and beast. As Peren rushes into battle, the goblins pepper it with arrows and Obash throws a javelin. Peren’s swords injure the beast, although the goblins’ arrows and Obash’s weapons do nothing to its hide. Torinn lets the fight play out while Bezaldooz casts mislead so that he appears to have fled the battle. While locked in melee, the beast bites Peren as Bosabrieln casts charm person, bringing the fight to a halt. Bosabrieln asks if he can give them directions to the Temple of the Snail, and the monstrous creature turns into a disheveled, hairy, nude man. Bosabrieln sings a song of healing to treat the man’s injuries, and the man indicates he has never heard of the Shrine of the Snail. They agree to go their separate ways, and the Shields slip back into the forest.

They travel for a time before the sounds of the forest return to normal. Bezaldooz stops to talk to a squirrel, making a strange chittering in response, and learns that the Temple of the Snail can be found to the southwest. They continue to march.

Travel through the forest is largely uneventful as they avoid the natural fauna of the forest. Towards the end of the day, they reach an idyllic valley filled with snails. Eight large snails with iridescent, rainbow-colored shells and flail-like antennae. A massive beast with a metal flail for a head roams the valley, occasionally standing on its hindquarters and whipping its massive flail-head about. A small, stone temple sits in the middle of the valley; although it is of solid manufacture, close inspection suggests the stones are ancient and well-worn.

The Shields knock on the door and are greeted by an eladrin in resplendent armor, her hair the ruddy color of late-autumn leaves. She immediately draws her sword, crackling with holy light, and strikes at a point on Bezaldooz’s shoulder — the place where Bono sat, only a few moments ago. She sheaths her sword and gives greeting in an archaic dialect of Elvish. Bosabrieln translates, and when she realizes they speak Common, she switches to a similarly-ancient dialect of the Common tongue. She gives her name as Lady Dul’besibrara Melithlylth’wyn, the guardian of this place. She leads them inside the temple, revealing a small chapel. Where the altar would sit in a normal church is completely dominated by a massive shell like those found on the large snails outside. The surface is pitted and scarred. As they enter, Dul’besibrara finds them what refreshment she has, and they speak for a while. Dul’besibrara is the last guardian of this ancient place, a temple dedicated to the Great Cosmic Flailsnail which carries the multiverse upon the facets of its shell. It is not clear how old she is, but she may date back to the Elven empire that once resided in these lands millennia ago, a link to an ancient sect lost to mortal memory. She receives visitors infrequently, but this bothers her little, as she busies herself with her work. She then sets to work chipping away at the shell with a chisel. During her work, she asks Bosabrieln of tales of the world, so he informs her of current events. When she eventually finishes chipping off a fist-sized piece of shell, she hands it to Bosabrieln, saying it may aid him in his journey.

They spend the rest of the evening resting. Bosabrieln identifies the stone as a snailstone, said to summon ancient heroes to the aid of the wielder on an erratic cosmic schedule. In contrast to most nights, they sleep here rather than in Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion. Peren in particular sleeps outside.

Bosabrieln is surprised in the night to be contacted by Headmaster Jepson via a dream spell. (The Headmaster is lucky to have caught Bosabrieln on a night where he is sleeping on the Prime Material Plane.) He largely catches up on business, noting that he spoke with Gloomblight Spellweaver and is aware of the situation at hand. He also met Galothel, who explained the situation in Tovelka; soldiers are being dispatched to escort the refugees back home. He mentions that Barnabus Sleet’s floating castle is hanging over Duchy Jepson. Sleet hasn’t caused any trouble yet, but has met with the local government. He apparently runs some sort of magcial lending library — the Wizard’s Tower is now a partner — among his other activies. According to the Headmaster’s information, Sleet is a hero of the Vaults of Vyzor, and his flying castle is an artifice known to some as the Broodmother Skyfortress, a flying fortress he evidently obtained in his travels.

However, the Headmaster was unaware that Sleet came to the Sorrowfell Plains for the bounty on the Shields’ heads. The detail was omitted from Sleet’s introduction.

Once they are certain they have conveyed all pertinent information, the Headmaster lets Bosabrieln return to sleep.

Peren has strange dreams in the night, dreams of savagery and hunting. He resists whatever force urges him to kill, but the dreams leave him disquieted.

The next day, the Shields thank Dul’besibrara for her hospitality, then take their leave of the valley, seeking the entrance to the Underdark. Their understanding, based on information from Dul’besibrara and Orhan, as well as the lay of the land, is that the entrance should be in a westerly direction.

They find it in the early afternoon without difficulty, a massive sinkhole that leads into the passage of tunnels beneath the earth. They descend into the hole, and find massive tunnels to the north, east, and west. Peren can find no tracks of the orc tribes, so they take a chance and head north. They are forced to sleep in Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion before too long, and they continue their journey in the morning.

The morning of Sunsebb 11 is fruitful, as they find the trail within a couple of hours. The path branches, and it is clear the orcs came from the northeast, heading along the northwestern passage. They are, perhaps, only a few days ahead. They number in the hundreds, and Peren suspects they are trying to travel as quickly as they are able, although they are still much slower than the Shields, given the size of their train. The Shields give chase.

Roughly three hours later, they happen upon a scared, confused woman, clad in rags. She cannot see in the dark, and holds only a pointed stick to defend herself. When they approach, she threatens them, but Bosabrieln lights a torch so that they may be seen. He introduces himself, and she seems relieved to learn they are the Shields of the Sorrowfell. She introduces herself as Joycie Lysell, and says she managed to escape the very orcs the Shields are tracking. While they discuss what to do with her — these tunnels are too dangerous for Joycie, but turning back would require too much time — Obash says he and the goblins can take her topside. Bosabrieln is about to agree when he sees the eagerness in Obash’s face and thinks better of it, but when he turns back to Joycie he sees a similar eagerness in her face that he does not like. He proceeds to ask more heavily how she escaped, suspecting she is a spy for the orcs. He casts charm person to obtain more information from her, but notes that she merely acts as though it took effect. She’s very good at lying, but not good enough to fool him. When he inquires about this, she flees but is quickly caught. When they take hold of her and ask whom she truly is, she shapeshifts into the spindly form of a doppelganger. She tries honesty to escape this situation, noting that she lied in the hopes of killing and impersonating one of them, as doppelgangers do. She has no connection to the orcs apart from knowing that they passed through the area, and so made a good cover story.

Tired of the doppelganger’s lies, Peren skewers the monster with his swords, and the Shields of the Sorrowfell continue on their way.

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Truth or Consequences, Part 6

Waterday, Sunsebb 5, 552 CY (50 AN)

Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn enter the misty portal through the archway.

They emerge into a welcoming hall featuring a statue of some giant deity. There are archways to the left, right, and center. The deity’s head is held back in laughter, with his arms open and outstretched, a gesture similar to the common benediction given by priests of Pelor. An enormous plaque on the statue is written in Giant, reading, “Enter the Temple of the Storm Giant King, Stronmaus. Announce Stronmaus’s Gift as You Enter and be Joyful.” The three exits also have plaques, similarly inscribed in Giant. The lefthand archway reads, “Hall of Mirth — Receive the Joyful Signs of Stronmaus and let only Annam’s Children See Our True Face;” the righthand archway reads, “Hall of Portent — When Stronmaus Speaks Heed the Omen as You See It;” and the archway straight ahead reads, “Hall of Honor — Watch for the Presage of Annam’s Return and Prepare.”

This place has obviously lain long undisturbed, but fresh footprints are visible in the dust. Most are booted humanoid feet, but a number of the prints are larger, bearing claws. Peren suspects more of the draegloth he saw earlier.

After examining the footprints and the room, the Shields of the Sorrowfell decide to walk to the archway ahead.

The next room is lined with massive statues of storm giant champions — three on each wall — each of which bears a plaque, proclaiming its deeds. The far wall bears two enormous double doors. As Peren and Torinn enter, two of the massive statues fall, but Peren and Torinn are able to catch them and heft them back into place. There is, perhaps, an eerie feelings as the Shields enter the room, but it is quickly dismissed. Torinn listens at the double-doors and hears nothing. As such, Peren and Torinn decide to heft the doors open; after some straining, the stone doors grant access. Faint chanting can be heard down the giant-sized stairs. The Shields move quietly and descend into the dark.

Creeping to the bottom of the stairs, the Shields find a heptagonal ritual space. Six archways lead into additional chambers — tombs by their look. A group of four drow priestesses, surrounded by blue eldritch energy, intone a ritual in the middle of the room. They are surrounded by faint auras of energy and roiling clouds of fiendish spirits. A rotting dark elf wizard, mostly skeleton, stands at the forefront; a living drow wizard stands at the back of the room. Two rotting storm giants flank the lich, while a massive, dark-skinned giant emerges from a tomb adjacent to the door. A large demonic beast, part drow and part spider — the draegloth Peren expected, a vile crossbreed of drow and demon — stands at attention.

Strangely, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn find they are unnaturally terrified of these giants, and refuse to approach. Bosabrieln manages to break whatever grim enchantment hinders Peren with a remove curse spell, and he rushes into the crowd, blades flashing. Bezaldooz follows Peren’s entrance to the fray with a sunburst spell, blinding many of the drow spellcasters and lashing all the foes in the room with radiant energy.

When the dark elves finally gather their wits and react to the intrusion, battle is joined. Although the engagement lasts less than a minute, it is grueling and vicious, one of the toughest battles the Sheilds of the Sorrowfell have fought in recent memory. Bosabrieln lifts the curse from Torinn, allowing him to enter the fray. Peren, having engaged the lich, and binding his magic with a well-placed silence spell, stays on the foul spellcaster. The blind drow magus gropes in the dark, trying to direct the black-skinned giants as they creep forth from their tombs. The chanting drow priestesses summon forth necromantic energy both to heal the giants they’ve raised and to break the bonds on the tombs, raising additional dark-skinned giants.

As Torinn has the chance to enter the fray, Peren gets paralyzed by the lich’s touch surrounded by giants. Torinn sweeps into the throng to assist, and though he fights mightily, Peren is overwhelmed and falls. Bosabrieln picks him back up with a healing word, but he only manages a brief engagement before he is again felled. Bezaldooz continues to hammer the ritual space with spells, although none seem able to penetrate the ritualists’ wards — Bezaldooz surmises they have erected some manner of globe of invulnerability to defend against spells, and they are protected by demonic spirits in case warriors wade into melee. More importantly, Bezaldooz manages to perform countersigils against every spell the lich casts, leaving him vulnerable to blade and spell.

The draegloth and lich both fall, the former disappearing and the latter exploding into dust. As more of these fearsome, black-skinned giants emerge from their tombs, the blind drow magus orders them to flee. He speaks a word of power to teleport from the proceedings, prompting the ritual circle in the corner of the room to thrum with energy. As the giant zombies fall, the ritualists continue their ritual, raising more of these strange giants, creatures almost too large for this tomb.

Torinn has locked the first of these strange giants in melee, never allowing him to gain ground or retreat. When Torinn falls in battle, Bosabrieln manages to revive him. He grabs Peren’s body — the elf ranger having breathed his last during the chaos of the fight — and brings him over to Bosabrieln. With a touch and an intoned word of power, Bosabrieln uses power word heal to fully rejuvenate Torinn, who then rushes back into the melee.

The giants stream through the flickering portal, but Bezaldooz finally breaks through the defense of one of the ritualists and slays her. Torinn leaves the black-skinned giant to begin battling one of the other ritualists, wading through the tide of demonic spirits to engage the drow priestess. Torinn knocks her out with a well-placed axe blow. With all six tombs emptied — four of the black-skinned giants and one more raised storm giant zombie having passed through the teleportation circle — and the Shields pushing through their defenses, the remaining two ritualists flee. Once they do, they flickering connection closes, leaving the last dark-skinned giant in the tomb.

He is quickly slain.

Assessing the damage, Peren is dead and all six tombs were defiled. Four of those strange, summoned giants escaped. The escaped giant zombie, raised after the first priestess was killed, suggests the ritual grew weaker as it lost participants. Still, the Shields want more information. Torinn awakens their prisoner and Bosabrieln attempts interrogation.

As with most of the dark elves they’ve encountered, the remaining priestess does not wish to talk, but once she determines she is actively facing the Shields of the Sorrowfell, her horror is plain to all. She spits blood at Bosabrieln and laughs, saying that they’ve hardly won — the drow have agents on every continent, awakening the giants and seeking their own ends. Raising Piranoth was merely one facet of their plan. Even now, the dark elves who escaped return to their city of Cinlu Tlurthei with their summoned death giants, and from there they seek the Vault of Gnashing Teeth to incarnate one of their gods into the world.

Content with the information they’ve gathered, Bosabrieln gives the sign and Torinn hefts the priestess and begins swinging her. She screams, a shout finally cut short when he makes his way to the wall and dashes her against it, leaving a bloody smear.

After searching the few bodies that remain — recovering a couple of scrolls and some assorted money and gems — Bezaldooz memorizes the sequence on this teleportation circle. Then the Shields head back upstairs.

Before they leave, they decide to investigate the rooms they neglected. Bezaldooz examines the Hall of Portent, finding a room with benches and chairs where moving images hover in the air. Although they are engaging, he learns nothing further of this place from them.

The Hall of Mirth is lined with masks. A single pair of bootprints lead into the middle of this room, but none emerge from the chamber. The Shields decide to leave that room unexamined. They exit.

Dessa is inconsolable when they exit, all-too-aware that the crypt was defiled. She screams and rages, both at her own failings as well as those of the Shields of the Sorrowfell. The storm worsens, and the Shields wisely decide to descend the mountain.

Returning to the village of Tovelka, they find most of the village indoors and asleep. Only Galothel remains outside, meditating in the center of the village. Oddly, she has a smear of dried blood on her shirt; when the Shields approach, she explains some of the goblins started causing trouble. They find a tent in which to seek shelter so Bosabrieln can revive Peren.

When they meet up with Obash, he tells them much the same thing — he was alarmed to find Galothel over him, borrowing his axe. Apparently he fell asleep and the goblins started causing trouble, so Galothel slew one of them. It was one of the combatants; the non-combatants and Hurm da Worm yet live.

It takes Bosabrieln an hour to sing the song of awakening and perform resurrection on Peren. When he awakens, they inform Galothel, Obash, and Peren of all that transpired atop the mountain. They discuss a little of their future plans before everyone decides that it has been a very long day and it is time for sleep.

For the most part.

Bezaldooz and Peren both sleep, particularly given Peren’s bad mood over his defeat upon the mountain.

Bosabrieln stays up talking with Galothel, partially in an attempt to seduce her, and partially to try to figure out what her deal is. She expresses consternation over the prospect of being yet another exotic notch on his bedpost, and she gives him grief for his love poetry and pickup lines being a bit cliché, but they find a fine time and end up sleeping together. He learns the truth — Galothel is not her name, nor is she truly an elf, although she was telling the truth when she said she came from the Hoarfrost Ridge. In actuality, she is a silver dragon.

While her confession is not definitive, it certainly checks out — silver dragons consider themselves friends to the small races, intrigued by short-lived folk such as humans and halflings and dragonborn. Regardless, she seems sincere in her confession. His curiosity and sexual appetites satisfied, Bosabrieln drifts off to sleep as she trances in the evening.

Meanwhile, Torinn goes walking through the mountains despite the rain, drinking from a fine bottle of wine he had lurking in his pack. It’s been somewhere between a half-hour and an hour when he spots four figures flying, illuminated by lightning. When they land, he sees they are some manner of bird-men — short, muscular humanoids with hawk-like features. They do not speak the common tongue, instead communicating in an odd, whistling language, but they give greeting and attempt to communicate with gestures. When he grabs a stick and scratches in the mud, they do likewise, sketching a map of the area. He surmises they’re trying to see if he is lost. They offer food, which he refuses, although he accepts their water. He offers wine to the leader, who tries it and clearly doesn’t care for it. They finally determine that they both understand the “thumbs up” symbol, which they use. As the birdmen are about to leave, Torinn gives them the turquoise bear figurine he obtained from the Jarl’s tomb on Frost Spire. They quickly confer among themselves and produce a strange, iron symbol depicting a pair of Elvish eyes in bas relief. Satisfied, they fly away. Torinn then makes his way back to Tovelka without incident.

The next morning, Peren awakens first, followed by Bezaldooz and then Torinn. Torinn is off to find Galothel. When he does, he finds Bosabrieln, nude, sprawled out on a bedroll; Galothel is also nude, meditating in the middle of the floor. Torinn averts his eyes and apologizes; Galothel gives greeting, then realizes her state and says she’ll be outside in a moment. She emerges in a tunic and asks Torinn what he needs; he wants to know if she can identify the symbol he found last night. She indicates it is the holy symbol of an obscure deity, Fenmarel Mestarine, god of solitude and outcasts, typically unknown to the “civilized” races as he is worshipped by wild elves, lone practitioners, and few others. Torinn thanks her and apologizes for being curt last night when she asked about him, which she says is perfectly understandable, as she was the one prying. She then notes that if he’s having trouble, he should speak to the rest of his adventuring company as that’s what they’re there to do. He turns and quietly says something to his axe, which seems to alarm her. He turns and takes his leave.

Bezaldooz, Peren, and Torinn meet for breakfast — specifically, the goat and cheese they purchased last night — eventually joined by Obash, although Peren is still sullen and tired from yesterday, and Bezaldooz excuses himself early to tend to some affairs.

When Bosabrieln awakens, Galothel asks him if she should be concerned about Torinn; Bosabrieln explains that his tradition is that his axe is inhabited by the soul of a relative, so he sometimes communicates with it. She notes that his axe is renowned to be a dragon-slaying axe, but Bosabrieln — finally understanding her consternation — reassures her that she has no need to be concerned about Torinn. The two then dress and go to breakfast.

When Bezaldooz slips away, he does so to summon Bonatos. After an hour-long ritual, the creature reappears. Bonatos chides him, then asks about what has occurred in his absence. Finally, at Bezaldooz’s request, he climbs Bezaldooz’s shoulder and turns invisible.

Once the Shields reconvene, they discuss their future plans. Galothel doubts she can protect the ex-slaves all by herself, but she can travel alone quickly; she expects she can make it to Duchy Jepson and recruit some of the guard to accompany her back to Tovelka and escort the ex-slaves back to civilization. The Shields ask her to report to Headmaster Jepson and explain what has occurred. The Shields plan on heading to Pottsdam and trying to pick up the trail of the Caveghost Clan orcs. Given their encounter with the drow here, they will no doubt use their pursuit of Caveghost Clan into the Underdark as a segue into hunting the escaped drow and their death giant allies. It seems as though they will leave Barnabus Sleet hanging for now, as they have more important things to do. Galothel asks if she can assist them in that matter, and Torinn quickly scrawls a note for her to deliver to Barnabus. He shouldn’t be hard to find; he apparently lives in a flying castle, currently parked near Jepson.

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Truth or Consequences, Part 5

Freeday, Ready’reat 28, 552 CY (50 AN)

Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn begin walking northwest to Beeheath. Their walk is interrupted after a few moments by Bezaldooz, who receives a sending in his mind. He recognizes the sender, a wizard from Duchy Jepson by the name of Polarion the Thaumaturgist. He was an alchemist known to the local student body as someone who could potentially acquire study aids on the sly, among other services. The addled wizard’s sending conveys the following: “Oh shit! I forgot to tell you, there are two messages coming for Torinn. Pay the entities a gold each and there will—Wait, shit!” Bezaldooz acknowledges the message and asks for clarification; none is forthcoming. He conveys what little he learned, and with nothing further to be done, the Shields of the Sorrowfell continue walking. Within a half-hour, the group is approached by an invisible presence carrying a letter. It drops the letter and begins attempting to access Torinn’s pack; presuming this is the messenger sent for him, he pulls out a gold piece, which the thing takes before leaving, flying wherever it may. Bezaldooz thinks the thing was an invisible stalker, an air elemental tasked with retrieving a specific object; as part of their symbolic programming, they can find their target without error, hence why it was able to find Torinn despite several teleportations.

Torinn reads the letter, and eventually it passes to the others. It is a printed form letter from some man named Barnabus Sleet, Muscle Wizard, challenging Torinn to a one-on-one duel. He has apparently been hired to kill Torinn, but is instead offering a best two-out-of-three match fight against the dragonborn. He will supply components for resurrection so long as Torinn brings his own cleric.

The Shields have a long walk to discuss the matter and determine what to do regarding this. Roughly an hour later, a second letter appears, also delivered by invisible courier. Torinn pays this one a gold piece, and reads the second letter. This one is hand-written, and admonishes the Shields to come to Sleet’s castle and discuss matters, as he suspects one of his friends is planning to destroy their world.

After passing this letter around, they continue their debate, eventually moving into a rather heated argument about the whole thing. They finally come to the idea that they’re going to continue with the original plan — head to Beeheath to get an accurate description of settlements closer to the Bloodstone Crags, teleport there, take out Clan Deadmoon, and then track down Caveghost Clan — and if this Sleet guy shows up, they’ll deal with that when it happens. They may visit him when they’ve completed this slaver tribe business. (Incidentally, nobody recognizes his name, but Bezaldooz recognizes the “Muscle Wizard” school: a strange variant school made by wizards who trap the n-dimensional hypersigils of magic in their muscles rather than their minds, allowing them to cast spells through their bodies. They engage in modified calisthenic routines rather than sleeping, and are universally kind of eccentric. They’re relatively unknown in the Sorrowfell Plains, but the secrets of the Muscle Wizard school are known on other planes. He’s basically some plane-hopping weirdo who is going to punch spells at you.) There is a brief debate as to whether they should hunt the rocs on Mt. Vogelberg — rocs are well known to potentially leave valuables in their nests, and that’s ignoring the value of any eggs they could potentially recover — but they decide against climbing the mountain in favor of sticking to the plan.

As they approach Beeheath, Bosabrieln casts seeming so the Shields can masquerade as trappers. They arrive as the settlement is starting its day, and they head to the local tavern, The Wicked Rose. The place appears to be staffed by a halfling family. There are a few assorted patrons inside, including one well-dressed foreign man. Torinn is immediately suspicious of him, and makes inquiries, learning he is some foreign noble looking for exotic food ingredients. After breakfast, they are directed to the Market Square to make inquiries. They spend most of the morning asking around, and they learn of two settlements. One, Tovelka, is located in the mountains and is a known spot to traders and merchants. A series of herders and nomads live in the area. The other, Dead Man’s Hollow, is discussed only in hushed tones and has something of a grim reputation. Located in the shadow of Cursewood, only the desperate go there; it appears to be a haven for criminals.

When the Shields reconvene, they decide that Tovelka is the better starting point, as it will likely have a better infrastructure for taking care of any escaped slaves they recover. (And they’re not terribly keen on Cursewood at the moment.) They find a secluded place for Bezaldooz to cast teleport.

The Shields emerge in the ruddy, rugged terrain of the Bloodstone Crags, completely out of sight of any signs of civilization. Peren can orient them directionally, and maybe make a vague guess as to where they are, but the teleport appears to have misfired and dropped them in the middle of nowhere. West will lead them back to the Sorrowfell Plains. They decide to start traveling in a spiral, expanding their search radius to try to pick up goblin tracks, whereupon they can hopefully find Clan Deadmoon. They start marching.

Shrouded as they are by magic, they come upon a lone orc who has not yet noticed them. He is massive, larger than even a typical orc and bearing fearsome tusks. He wears plate armor and carries a greataxe as well as a full pack. Bosabrieln and Torinn approach, still disguised as trappers. They give greeting, but the orc still seems to feel superior and a tad predatory until Peren appears behind him with no warning. That mellows him somewhat.

He gives his name as Obash, and indicates he was with a tribe called Grummsh’s Teeth. Separated from his unit, he reluctantly admits he’s gotten a bit turned around in the mountains. The group reveals they’re looking for Clan Deadmoon — a brief flash of fear crosses Obash’s face, which he quickly hides; though an orc fears no goblin, Deadmoon have access to strange magics — and he says he will accompany them on their hunt. When Peren suggests their bearings to Obash, he indicates he thinks Clan Deadmoon is to the southwest. Bosabrieln then decides to reveal themselves to him, and they are revealed in their splendor — Obash learns he is traveling with the Shields of the Sorrowfell. He clearly recognizes the name, but since they don’t seem terribly keen on killing him, he’s fine with it.

Obash is again surprised when Bezaldooz falls into lockstep with them, but they begin their march. His next little surprise comes when they camp for the night, doing so in Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion. He quickly grows accustomed to this, as well, especially when it becomes clear they have access to a nine-course feast every night.

The next day is similarly quiet, as they find the trail of a great number of goblin tracks through the mountains.

It is on midday, Sunday, Sunsebb 2, when they see smoke over the next rise. Investigation reveals a camp in a valley. Only a few goblins are visible, apparently acting as guards; it seems reasonable that the rest of the camp is asleep. Several tents have been erected, including one more ostentatious than the others at the head of the camp. The center of the camp is filled with cages, some for slaves, and some for the worgs and giant rats the goblins keep as beasts of burden and attack animals. The goblins don’t notice the Shields as they survey the site, and Bezaldooz determines four points where it would be safe to lay down a meteor swarm without causing a rock slide or injuring the slaves. Since he can shield several from the blast, Peren, Torinn, and Obash position themselves near the edge of the goblin camp.

The attack starts. One of the goblin guards notices the falling stones a split second before they hit, but there is otherwise little warning. The camp erupts into a cacophony of sound and a maelstrom of destruction. Obash is screaming, but invigorated. Obash, Peren, and Torinn emerge from the flames; Peren unleashes a horde of javelins upon the caged animals with a well-placed conjure volley spell. All but three worgs are slain; the panicked animals quickly break free of their cages and flee into the countryside. The slaves are initially terrified, but quickly surmise what’s happening.

In a few seconds, the entire camp has been destroyed. Only a handful of goblins remain, easily intimidated into submission by Obash, Peren, and Torinn. All told, there are roughly fifty slaves and thirty goblins; Peren and Torinn give command of the goblins over to Obash, who relishes the role. Most of the goblins are non-combatants, with maybe five warriors and a single surviving boss among them, Hurm da Worm. They spend the rest of the afternoon keeping the goblins in check, scouting around for any remaining treasure (they find several piles of melted slag that clearly used to be precious metals, as well as a couple of bloodstones), and making certain the former slaves are healthy and have all they need. They camp in Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion for the night.

Getting their bearings with the assistance of those who were abducted locally, they determine they are roughly three days from Tovelka. They spend the next two days traveling without incident. It is the morning of Waterday, Sunsebb 5, when they encounter a lone fire giant, prepared to antagonized the refugee train. The monster is quickly slain by the Shields. Searching its pouch, among the stones it is prepared to throw, it has 135gp (at his request, Obash receives a share of the treasure), and a single, small coffin, roughly child-sized. After some worried discussion as to what to do with it, they open it to find dust and bones inside. It appears it was some manner of coffin the giant exhumed for unknown reasons. They bury the coffin and say a few words before continuing on their way.

Dusk approaches when they see the village of Tovelka in the distance, still a few miles away. Black clouds gather over the village, apparently centered above a nearby hill. The people local to the area claim the storms are often here, centered around the giant ruins on the hill, although it is only a recent occurrence that they grew to encompass the village. They give offers of milk and cheese to the “little god” of the mountain.

As they approach, they see a lone figure moving through the mountains. As the figure becomes apparent, it is a lone elf woman in traveling clothes, bearing a pack but no weapons. Bosabrieln gives greeting, and she returns it. She introduces herself as Galothel, and quickly surmises she is speaking to the Shields of the Sorrowfell. She seems pleased that they are bringing liberated slaves to Tovelka, and that they appear to have destroyed Clan Deadmoon. (She also asks if she can flip Bezaldooz’s hood down, and she seems pleased to learn the rumor that he is a vampire is untrue.) She asks if she may accompany them to Tovelka, and though Torinn — and, admittedly, everyone — is quite suspicious, they allow it.

She is a bit cagey about herself, and a trifle eccentric enough that Bosabrieln mistrusts her, but she indicates she’s from the Hoarfrost Ridge originally, but she likes to travel and gather stories, rather like Bosabrieln. She’s been in this region and away from civilization for a little while, so she hasn’t heard much news of late. She seems very pleasant and personable, though. (One thing catches Bosabrieln’s attention, though: when the Shields are similarly cagey around some of her questions, she apologizes and hopes she isn’t prying too heavily, as war is always traumatic. Since this matches the “official” story that the Shields are probably suffering from PTSD after fighting against the giants, and subsequently performed a terrorist attack against Scandshar, it deepens Bosabrieln’s mistrust of her.) When asked, she does note the last rumor she heard of Caveghost Clan is that they attacked Pottsdam, a small village on the River of Tears, about four months ago. It’s not much, but it gives them a place to start.

She also inquires more heavily about some of their travels, and when they indicate they found the orc chieftain of the Thousand Eyes worshiped the Esteemed and Omniscient Peacock Lord as some manner of god, she finds that quite interesting, given that the figure is thought to be a legendary figurehead. She inquires deeper, and when the Shields remark that they found it odd that she seemed to be using arcane spells rather than clerical ones, Galothel inquires as to whether she might have been some manner of warlock. Would the Esteemed and Omniscient Peacock Lord then be some manner of warlock patron?

When they arrive in Tovelka, Obash and Torinn (along with the goblins) initially stay outside the village. As Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Galothel, and Peren enter, they are greeted by an elder herdsman and apparent leader, a man named Ashowg. Bosabrieln explains about the destruction of Clan Deadmoon and the recovery of the slaves. He gives Ashowg 200gp, and it seems as though some of the traveling merchants might be able to resettle the freed slaves in civilization.

While the group sets about treating and settling the refugees, Bezaldooz takes the opportunity to cast detect magic on Galothel. She radiates magic, not as any collection of items, but apparently as an intrinsic part of her being. (Or perhaps she is under a single, potent, persistent spell.) He quietly passes this information along. Bosabrieln, wanting to learn more about her, starts flirting with her, an act to which she seems receptive.

With the destruction of Clan Deadmoon, the herders and merchants hold a feast. (Obash and Torinn are invited for the village; Torinn is wary of the storm clouds, but agrees.) It is meager but hearty fare: brown bread, goat cheese, goat milk, and weak ale. Bosabrieln tells tales of their exploits against the giants, and then asks Galothel to tell a tale; she tells a story from Anhak, the fable of the King and the Medusa. The court of Good King Vyacheslav was graced by the mysterious Asra bint Nabil bin Zaahir al-Thaban, and over the course of many nights, they fell in love.

While the audience is deeply moved by this tale, the Shields largely miss the end of it, because Bosabrieln is called on urgent business.

At some point during Bosabrieln’s tale, Peren slinks away to scout the mountain. The storm gets worse as he ascends, causing him to tire and inhibiting his progress. He decides to use his obsidian steed to ascend the mountain, using its inherent ability to enter the Ethereal Plane to bypass the storm. The eerie twilight of the Ethereal Plane is unfamiliar to him, but much more navigable than the chaos of the storm. Partway to the top of the mountain, he finds a contingent of six dark elf corpses, clearly mangled by the storm with extreme violence. He happens to notice a partially-buried sack; he drops into the Material Plane to gather it, and finds a potion, a scroll, and a medallion depicting a hand (possibly some manner of holy symbol). He takes them and returns to his steed and the Ethereal Plane.

Flying all the way up the mountain, he finds a stone archway. The storm coalesces into a massive face, and throws lightning at him — this entity cannot affect him on the Ethereal Plane, but it can apparently perceive him — while announcing that she is Dessa, a storm giant keeper of a gateway to an old giant’s tomb. She claims, “I have failed once but I will not fail again!”

Peren, annoyed by her apparent attack, begins taunting her, prompting her to grow angrier and continue throwing lightning at him. He then uses the sending stone to contact Bosabrieln, letting him know there is a situation.

Now knowing that something has escalated, and similarly noticing that the storm is growing worse, Bosabrieln gathers Bezaldooz and Torinn to alert them. He sends another sending to Peren to check on his status, and Peren decides to return to gather them. To potentially appease the “little god” of the mountain, they acquire some milk and cheese, as well as a goat to carry it — Ashowg charges 50gp, which prompts an argument at the somewhat exorbitant price, but Bezaldooz ends up paying it.

It’s roughly the end of Galothel’s tale by the time Peren returns, and with the increased violence of the storm, the villagers begin returning to their homes. It’s quickly decided: Peren’s mount can take Peren and two others into the Ethereal Plane, so Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln will go with him. Galothel, Obash, and Torinn will stay behind and see to the villagers’ safety.

With that, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Peren sojourn into the Ethereal Plane and trek up the mountain. When they arrive, the face coalesces and is still incredibly angry, but Bosabrieln manages to talk Dessa down. She is evidently some manner of storm giant who has metamorphosed into a storm, and she was guarding this place, a tomb of the fallen empire of the giants. The drow managed to penetrate the sanctum, and Bosabrieln promises that they will take care of the situation here if she can see fit to let them pass. Her anger subsides, and she admits she allowed her rage to get the best of her. Returning to the Material Plane, they discuss with her, learning that dark elves have been attempting to gain access to the site for weeks, and they somehow just managed to penetrate the sanctum. Bosabrieln agrees to help, but she admonishes them to avoid looting anything when they enter the tomb; she will can reward them for their assistance if they wish it.

With the storm dying down, Torinn begins the trek up the mountain. Obash stays behind to watch the goblins — and the goat, which ends up being left behind — while Galothel continues her work.

When the Shields reconvene at the mountaintop, Dessa agrees to grant them access through the stone archway.

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Truth or Consequences, Part 4

Sunday, Ready’reat 23, 552 CY (50 AN)

After overseeing the freeing of the slaves and the Thousand Eyes’ packing operation, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn retire to Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion to plan and prepare for the following days’ journeys. The general plan seems to be to escort the freed slaves to Dawnslight, then teleport to the northeast corner of the Sorrowfell Plains to find Clan Deadmoon. After that, it’s an excursion into the Underdark to find Caveghost Clan.

The following morning, Moonday, Ready’reat 24, the surviving remnants of the Thousand Eyes tribe head south, while the Shields of the Sorrowfell round up the 300 or so freed slaves and begin the long march northeast to Dawnslight. As some of the captured slaves were formerly guards, the Shields set about organizing those members to keep watch on the others. Peren scouts ahead, Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln lead the column of refugees, and Torinn walks in the middle.

Travel is uneventful for the first hour or so. Scouting ahead, Peren notes a woodsman — a burly man with long, brown hair and a greataxe — foraging. He doesn’t notice Peren, but does hear the approach of the refugee train. At first, he seems prepared to hide, but quickly surmises that it is likely nonthreatening, so he waits an observes. As the train starts to pass, Bosabrieln gives greeting, and the man introduces himself as Grimi Bjornson. Apparently, Grimi is a backwoodsman who lives out here, keeping an eye on the orcs in the ruins of Solaeque. Bosabrieln delivers the good news, along with the fact that they’re taking these refugees to Dawnslight. Grimi doesn’t know much else; he receives few visitors in these parts, although he has some limited contact with the elves of Nainimdul, who seem to have a grudging respect for him. (He is apparently familiar with the Shields and their exploits, however.) He offers to accompany them through the woods for a while, which Bosabrieln accepts, using the opportunity to flirt with him as they walk. After a couple of hours, he parts company, wanting to return to his home.

A couple of hours later, Peren spots a strange, somewhat feral man with tattered clothes and a spear. The man seems unnerved at the approach of so large a group, and so runs off into the woods to hide. Peren uses his sending stone to warn Bosabrieln that trouble may be approaching, and he follows the man. Once he is certain the man is giving the group a wide berth, he rejoins the refugee train and informs Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln that the potential threat has passed.

A couple of hours later, in the late afternoon, the group prepares to camp. Bosabrieln invokes Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion, and everyone piles inside to sleep. It’s cramped, but preferable to sleeping outdoors, especially given that most of the rescued slaves lack bedrolls or cold weather gear for the chilly Ready’reat nights.

In the middle of the night, Bosabrieln awakens to return to the Sorrowfell Plains so that he can deliver a dream to Captain Evell Bole. Peren and Torinn stand watch. When Bosabrieln emerges into her dreams, he finds himself in a grand chamber, ostensibly Scandshar’s Parliament House by the look of it. Parliament is not in session, but there are a handful of representatives sitting at a couple of tables being pushed together. A pale, dark haired woman stands at the head of the table, toasting the proceedings. In the middle of the table is Captain Bole, nude and bloodied. The assembled party is tearing into her with knives and their bare hands, ripping away bloody chunks of her flesh.

Bosabrieln quickly changes the scene to a pleasant sitting room. It takes her a moment to adjust, and even then, she does not immediately recognize Bosabrieln, having never actually met him before. Proper introductions are made, and after Bole sufficiently expresses her annoyance at this fiasco, Bosabrieln takes the opportunity to describe what happened. She thinks for a while, then decides to reveal that she had her doubts about the official narrative. After the Shields left, the Peacocks collapsed the entire wing of the gladiator pits that the Shields damaged, and killed every guard Torinn knocked out. (She had her suspicions; she saw the bodies, and forensically, the slain guards had clearly been in fistfights, without the defensive wounds the subsequent stab wounds would suggest.) She again notes that she wants out from under the Peacocks’ influence, but cannot leave because she knows they will put someone far more monstrous in charge. She doesn’t know how long before they subvert her mind or make her disappear, or any of the monstrous things the Peacocks do. Bosabrieln says he will try his best to try to dismantle the operation, and will maintain contact as long as he can. He asks if any of the guards under her command were punished due to their actions in the early morning on Ready’reat 19, but she explains that she was very careful to hide the involvement of any loyal guards.

Once Bosabrieln returns to his senses, he gathers Bezaldooz, Peren, and Torinn to describe what was discussed. He then considers that he should probably also contact Count Brissot, so he undergoes the procedure again to send a dream to the Count. Bosabrieln again explains their side of things, and Count Brissot is actually surprised to learn that any part of it is their fault. (He assumed something went in an unexpected fashion, and the Peacocks manufactured the entire story.) He notes that the Peacocks, and factions in the Scandshar Parliament, will use this to pass draconian measures they have already been considering: enhanced security for the slave trade, greater military budgeting, and a crackdown on independent adventuring companies using tariffs and mandatory membership in adventuring guilds. All these innovations are no doubt weeks away, but discussion has already begun. Count Brissot is relatively powerless to try to help salvage the Shields’ tarnished reputation, as he can’t be seen openly supporting them. However, he will do what he can.

Bosabrieln again informs the others of what he has learned upon his return before the Shields retire to sleep for the evening.

On the morning of Godsday, Ready’reat 25, the group leaves Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion, returning to the road. The day is uneventful. They repeat the process on Waterday, Ready’reat 26, and the day is largely uneventful; they pass a circle of standing stones around midday, but with a job to complete, they ignore the standing stones and continue the march, making camp in Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion that night.

The refugee train arrives in Dawnslight just after midday on Earthday, Ready’reat 27. Guards are quickly dispatched to fetch Shaward Torranol and Leogold Spiritforged, and the village bands together to try to find some modicum of shelter for the refugees for the night. Once the situation is settled, the Shields meet with Shaward and Leogold to determine the best course of action. Bosabrieln gives Shaward 1,000gp to help cover expenses in relocating the refugees, and the general plan seems to be to gather reinforcements so they can be escorted to Kiris Dahn, currently in the process of being rebuilt by the Tain Merchant Co. Hopefully they can be repopulated there, or slowly make their way back to their homes. Shaward is also certain to mention that he heard about their troubles in Scandshar, and shows them the wanted posters he received. The pictures are somewhat accurate, although the descriptions of their equipment is probably the more damning part. The Shields are certain to take two of each poster for their own amusement. Shaward invites them to stay, but Bosabrieln notes it would be unwise, given that they are currently wanted men in Scandshar.

That night, Bosabrieln gathers everyone in the village to tell the tale of their triumph against the giants. It is a magnificent show. Afterward, a young woman emerges from the crowd, approaching Bosabrieln — he recognizes her as Sally, the young milkmaid whom he bedded six months ago. (He also recalls that “Sally” is merely the name he gave her, never actually having bothered to learn her real name.)

Coincidentally, she appears to be about six months pregnant.

Much to the amusement of Bezaldooz, Peren, and Torinn, Bosabrieln then has to explain his absence while her very angry father is staring daggers at him. He eventually walks her back to her house and gets her to bed, saying he has more business to attend. She asks him to return when he’s finished and wake her if she’s asleep, and he agrees.

Bosabrieln then finds her father, and notes that he is in no way qualified to take care of this child. The father sternly agrees. Bosabrieln then gives him 1,000gp to see to the child’s care.

Bosabrieln rejoins the rest of the Shields, and after they sufficiently grill him about his meeting with Sally and what to do with her — they suggest that perhaps she ought to accompany them, much to Bosabrieln’s chagrin — they retire for the night.

Bosabrieln awakens early in the morning to deliver a letter explaining that he cannot remain as a fugitive, and he still has duties to perform. When he tries to surreptitiously deliver it on her windowsill, however, she is awake and spots him, forcing him to explain his continued absence in person. She seems to accept his excuse, no doubt more due to his eloquence than any legitimacy, and says she hopes to see him again soon. Bosabrieln then slinks off.

Before they leave, Torinn approaches her window and gives her a turquoise figurine of a wolf, one of the figurines retrieved from Jarl Hargaad’s tomb. He says it’s for the baby, which Sally thinks is very sweet.

Once the Shields reconvene at the edge of town, the plan seems to be to travel to Beeheath. From there, they hope to get a detailed description of a settlement or landmark in the northern Bloodstone Crags in the hopes of traveling by teleport and then hunting down Clan Deadmoon. Bezaldooz intones the syllables to teleport, and the Shields find themselves on a road. Based upon the position of the peak of Mt. Vogelberg to the northwest, they must be slightly off-target, perhaps six or so miles away from the town of Beeheath. With that, they begin their journey northwest.

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Truth or Consequences, Part 3

Waterday, Ready’reat 19, 552 CY (50 AN)

Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn have a couple of hours to fully work out their plan to infiltrate the gladiator pits, knowing that they’ll have a half-hour after the guard change at 3 AM to work without interruption from the Scandshar Watch. They remain at The Drunken Goblin to finish the planning phase.

Based on their understanding of the pits, there is an upper level which is completely subterranean but connects to the arenas and several municipal buildings in the entertainment district. At roughly four corners of this sprawling dungeon, spiral staircases descend into the pits where the gladiators live and train. The various pits are ranked alpha to delta, and more trusted and experienced gladiators live near the top of each pit.

The plan is simple, but effective: they’ll teleport into the gladiator pits, go to work freeing the slaves, and use the army they build to keep rolling through the pits. They’ll start in pit gamma, near the bottom to capture the newest gladiators (and use that as leverage for any more experienced gladiators who might think this gambit is some manner of trick). Since the pits themselves are heavily compartmentalized, it’s entirely possible they can move methodically enough to avoid raising the alarm. Many of the doors are magically keyed to the guards, but Peren has a potion of cloud giant strength, so that should grant them an hour where he can just tear the reinforced doors off their hinges.

Basically, they’ll wing it, but assuming the Peacocks haven’t engaged in any crazy upgrades after the Scandshar Six escaped, they should be able to overcome any resistance. The most important part is Bosabrieln’s continued seeming spell; once they arrive, they should have five hours where they are still in disguise, so they will not be recognized as the Shields of the Sorrowfell. After all, the gladiator pits are a legal institution, and if they go as the Shields, they will be branded as criminals and terrorists.

Before leaving, Bosabrieln sends sendings to both Count Brissot and Vianibrar, to warn them of what’s about to happen. Count Brissot doesn’t know if he has the infrastructure to smuggle out hundreds of escaped slaves on a couple of hours’ notice, but he’ll see what he can do. Vianibrar is amused by the Shields’ plan, and says he’ll try to pass along the information to anyone inside the gladiator pits he can potentially contact.

When the third bell rings, they go to work. Peren casts pass without trace so they have a chance of moving stealthily. Finding a secure place, Bezaldooz casts teleport upon them, sending the quartet into the gladiator pits, specifically the stairs leading to the bottom of gamma pit. (His teleport spell is entirely dependent on Peren’s description of the place, but it appears he arrived in the expected location.)

The group silently moves through the halls, cutting left to enter the only non-magically reinforced door in the hallway, ostensibly a guard barracks. Torinn silently cracks the lock on the door, and the Shields make their way inside.

Several bunks and footlockers dominate the room. There are maybe ten guards inside, most of whom are sleeping, although a couple are reading by candlelight or trying to fall asleep. Bezaldooz casts sleep, but only one more guard falls asleep. Bosabrieln starts to address them, potentially offering a bribe, but is interrupted.

A large, spider construct falls amidst the mass of beds. It looks like it merely appeared there, having teleported from elsewhere. More notably, the guards look surprised by this development, suggesting it is not one of the planned defenses of the gladiator pits.

Battle is joined. The thing seems to ignore the other participants in the combat, focusing on Bosabrieln — shooting him with strange rays and slashing at him with its razor talons. But that focus gives Peren and Torinn the chance to team up on it and let Bosabrieln escape, while Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln pelt the thing with their magics. They swiftly destroy the thing, reducing the construct to scrap. Collectively, the Shields recognize that this is a Retriever, a construct developed to retrieve rogue demonic essences in the Abyss. The drow tend to use them, and occasionally employ them to find rogue slaves in the Material Plane.

While the battle is ongoing, the guards have awakened and gathered their equipment, trying to make sense of the bizarre tableau. A couple of guards also opened the door to investigate the commotion, but they subsequently fled.

Bosabrieln and Peren change tactics, working this attack into a narrative that the dark elves have finally made their attempt to conquer civilization. The disguised Shields introduce themselves as secret representatives of the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks designed to battle this threat against Scandshar. They must be careful, however; some of the guards and others in the complex might be in league with the drow, so it’s unclear who can be trusted.

It’s a harder sell, but Bosabrieln even manages to convince them that they must release and outfit the gladiators as reinforcements.

While Bosabrieln continues to seed that idea, Bezaldooz and Torinn remain to oversee the men outfitting themselves while Peren runs off to grab the two guards who got away. He rushes up the stairs and knocks one out before the other can react. He somehow manages to sell the remaining guard the same lie, saying he needed to keep him quiet lest any interlopers hear about this disturbance. He asks the remaining guard to help him carry the unconscious one.

Returning back downstairs to the hallways, they run into a contingent of guards who inquire about what’s happening. They’re suspicious about Peren’s explanation about drow and such, so they go to get someone in charge to discuss these matters. He decides to let it go, but once the guards have left the corridor, he knocks out the remaining guard and drags them into the barracks.

Bezaldooz and Torinn step outside to watch for any more mobilizing guards while Bosabrieln and Peren oversee the guards preparing their armor. Bezaldooz and Torinn notice several guards leave the overseer’s chambers across the way and head back up the stairs, but let them go.

After the guards are fully ready, the group heads into the gladiators’ cells, releasing them and outfitting them at the armory. Bosabrieln promises that the gladiators will be released for their service against the drow tonight; one of the guards seems on the verge of panic at this, but Bosabrieln reassures him that this is just a ploy to gain the gladiators’ cooperation, and that they will quash any dissent when they reveal they cannot make good on their promise. Its the Peacocks’ concern, not the guards’ problem.

Once the gladiators are fully outfitted — taking long enough that the Scandshar Watch must be prepared to mobilize by now — the group begins marching upstairs, traveling up the cramped spiral staircase. Torinn is at the head of the column, with Peren behind him. They are met shortly by a contingent of guards coming downstairs, an unarmored man at their head. He is bald and wears the robes of a wizard, his arms crossed and inserted into his large sleeves. A sheer veil is worn across his face. He is, presumably, Lord Candle. When he begins to speak, Peren casts silence; the man merely looks annoyed, giving him a look as if to say, “Really?” in response.

Torinn takes up his axe and begins a tense battle in the cramped stairwell. Lord Candle grabs Torinn and tries to bite his neck with extended fangs, but is surprised to note that he is wearing full armor as Torinn’s illusion appears unarmored. He then starts trading punches while Torinn cleaves into him with his axe.

Unable to help or see around the bend, Bosabrieln gives signs to the soldiers to force them to retreat. He and Bezaldooz begin retreating downstairs, although Bezaldooz sends Bono up to the battle to attack Lord Candle.

Torinn activates the jets on his power armor to hover so that he can better attack Lord Candle, and so Peren can crawl under him to enter the fight with swords. Despite regenerating his injuries, Lord Candle is suffering numerous axe-wounds, and is clearly losing this fight; he is being injured faster than his ability to repair them would allow. Still, he seems relatively unconcerned. Bono finally manages to claw his ankle, and his toxic claws make the vampire wizard somewhat woozy.

That’s about the time when Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln hit the hallway. Bezaldooz, worried that the fight isn’t going well or fast enough, casts fireball through Bono.

Chaos erupts as Peren and Torinn are engulfed in fire. The flashfire sucks all the air out of the tunnels and the explosion collapses the central column in the stairwell. Bezaldooz’s magics prevent Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn from being injured by the fire, but does nothing about the subsequent collapse of the gamma pit. The Shields of the Sorrowfell, and the remains of the gladiators and the guards are all buried under stone.

It takes them a while to extricate themselves from beneath the rubble; they are all badly injured, but still alive. Peren and Torinn quickly surmise what happened, and after the Shields take the opportunity to chastise Bezaldooz — the potential instability caused by setting off explosions in confined tunnels was deliberately discussed during the planning phase (to say nothing of being viewed as terrorists for heavy collateral damage) — they take time to rest and bandage their wounds. After resting, they determine this can still be salvaged; they’ll teleport up to the exotic animal enclosure, release the animals, and continue their mission in the chaos.

Again working from Peren’s description, Bezaldooz casts teleport, and the group arrives in a stone hallway outside a portcullis. The left side terminates in a dead-end; the right side of the hallway turns right into the dark. There are no lit sconces on this level, but all parties can see in the dark. The room with the portcullis is too large to see the far side from the hallway, but the parts that can be seen are empty.

Bezaldooz casts detect magic, and notes an aura around the portcullis. Peren quaffs his potion of cloud giant strength and rips the portcullis from the wall while the others take cover around the corner. He scatters some rations about to attract any creatures within. When nothing is forthcoming, and hoping to leave before any potential monsters escape, they decide to head down the hallway.

A couple of twisted turns give them an option: turn left, or go forward and turn left. They go forward, turning into a hallway. An alcove holds a large statue of a sitting demon, complete with ruby eyes. At this point, any illusion that they are still in the gladiator pits is shattered, as this looks like Turathi architecture. Peren would probably guess that they’re in the mountains.

They’ve been wandering in the wrong place for about ten minutes.

Torinn sits on the floor, having had enough of backfiring magic for one day. Peren pries the rubies out of the statue and pockets them, then wanders off to investigate further. Returning to the portcullis room, he investigates to find that a cadre of ghouls has entered on the lefthand side. They are searching the room, having not yet noticed Peren, when they catch the scent of the rations and start heading toward them. Peren slips past them, into the room, and notes the statue of the Raven Queen in the right corner. He determines it is built into the wall, cleverly concealing a rotating panel. He forces the panel open and slips inside, heading down a hallway and turning right to find —

Meanwhile, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Torinn are waiting for Peren to return when a group of shadowy creatures round the corner. Even though Torinn barely deigns to stand, the group makes short work of them, although one of them gets close enough to touch Bosabrieln sending a chill through him and sapping his strength. As they’re cleaning up, Peren rounds the corner.

After some discussion, the group decides to leave. Bezaldooz teleports to a place he has definitely seen before, casting a teleport spell to the arena floor of Blackgem Amphitheatre. They can hear the Scandshar Watch on high alert outside the arena, and they see distant smoke spiraling into the sky. They decide to abandon the mission and flee through the gladiator pits, as it’s too hot for them to reasonably continue this mission tonight. After forcing open another portcullis, they enter to find a group of guards — mixed gladiator pit guards and Scandshar Watch — heading in their direction. Peren and Torinn knock several of them out before the guards call for a hasty retreat. The Shields try to find a side room where they can hole up for a minute to finally just get out of here via teleportation circle. They find such a room, and Bezaldooz starts performing the ritual when they are interrupted.

A mechanical tiger — a somewhat crude automaton, looking nothing like the sleek spider that attacked earlier — appears in the hallway outside the room. Peren casts a wall of fire to dissuade it, but it teleports to the back of the room, flanking Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln. Regardless, Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln manage to escape the beast and the Shields make short work of it.

Once it is reduced to scrap, Bezaldooz manages to finish his teleportation circle without further interruption, and the Shields teleport to the circle in Duchy Jepson.

The guards are surprised to see strangers tumble through the circle in the early morning hours, and are perhaps no less surprised when Bosabrieln drops the illusion and they are revealed to be the Shields of the Sorrowfell, bloodied and dirty. They make haste to the Addled Alchemist to sleep. Torinn uses his amulet to summon the shield guardian to him before he falls asleep. Bosabrieln again sends sendings to Brissot and Vianibrar so that they know of the failure, and in Brissot’s case, can adequately prepare.

They are all awakened abruptly by loud and insistent knocks on their doors. Headmaster Jepson has come, and demands to see them in his chambers at once. The Shields dress and head to the Wizard’s Tower.

Arriving at the Headmaster’s chambers, he indicates he heard about what happened, but wants the details. After being told, he indicates that the bounty on their head has increased, and they are now wanted by the legal authorities. The Headmaster and the Duchess cannot risk a conflict with Scandshar on their behalf; Jepson can no longer harbor the Shields. Construction on their houses will cease, and they will be stripped of their titles. They should leave as soon as they are able. The Shields understand, and so exit. Before leaving Jepson, Torinn takes a moment to find Ekaterina; he tells her that they have to leave for a while, thanks her for her service, and gives her 7 platinum pieces. Peren also heads to a jeweler to get the rubies appraised; combined, they are apparently worth 10,000gp. He deigns to keep them rather than sell them. When the Shields reconvene, Bezaldooz again uses teleportation circle to arrive at Argent.

After informing Valna of their failure, the Shields find their chambers and sleep. During his sleep, Bosabrieln receives a dream from Vianibrar, where he asks for what precisely happened. He notes that he probably would have returned as well to salvage the mission had everything not gone to plan, and further notes that everybody gets hit with an errant spell sooner or later. Vian’s advice is to proceed as planned, but to make sure to get ahead of this thing by spreading the Shields’ side of the story. Don’t let the government and the Peacocks be the only ones to control the narrative; the lawmakers and aristocrats might think about the Shields one way, but as long as the common people still think of them as heroes, they’ll be all right. They can continue to do good works elsewhere, and possibly even return to the pits at a future time. This whole situation is salvageable.

Bosabrieln is heartened by this advice, and thanks Vianibrar. With regard to other things to do, the topic of the slaver tribes arises. There are three main tribes of orcs and goblins that illegally capture travelers in the Sorrowfell Plains, then sell them to the Scandshar slaving operations. One has a known base of operations, currently residing in the ruins of Solaeque. The former residents of Solaeque are currently resigned to a ghetto in Vonseloth, and Vian has at least one friend who would love to learn the orcs have been driven from the domain.

When Bosabrieln awakens, he calls the Shields together for a meeting. He recounts Vian’s advice, and although most of the Shields are against the plan, he convinces them to go along with it. They will disguise themselves, travel to Scandshar, and Bosabrieln will spend a day in taverns buying drinks and trying to spread their side of the story. After the day is over, they will leave — probably to combat the orc tribes in Solaeque.

The Shields spend another day in Argent. Torinn makes the most of these two days, steadily reading his copy of the Tome of Leadership and Influence. When he finally finishes on Earthday, Ready’reat 20, whatever arcane process the book began takes hold, and he feels a strange and subtle magic come over him. Not only does his strength of personality become more potent, but some quiet keening begins in his blood. Most odd.

The Shields set out for Scandshar on the morning of Freeday, Ready’reat 21. They use seeming to appear as disparate parties who traveled to the teleportation circle together, but they stay within sight of one another throughout the day as they travel around the city. Bosabrieln tries to hit the Troll and Fish first, but Scarlet Jax’s boys make it clear that fancy strangers such as themselves are not welcome. They receive a better reception at various other taverns, and Bosabrieln manages to plant rumors that the Shields’ side of the story is being misrepresented.

Around midday, they are ambushed by some creature that pounces out of an alley. It is another large construct, but this one appears strange and organic, like a cross between a lizard and an insect. It opens with a terrible roar that frightens and stuns Bezaldooz. Bosabrieln manages to hold the thing off for a time while Peren and Torinn arrive, and then Bosabrieln manages to pull Bezaldooz out of the fight until he can recover. The thing flees atop a building, but Peren swiftly climbs it while Torinn shoots the beast with his musket — despite a direct hit, the bullet clangs off the construct’s metallic hide. He then activates his powered armor’s rockets to leap atop the building, continuing to fight the thing. The creature finally disappears after Torinn gives it a nasty wallop on the head; it seems to twitch and malfunction a second before it vanishes.

After everyone flees the scene and regroups, Bosabrieln uses seeming to switch their appearances again, then continues his information campaign. Feeling fairly satisfied, the group leaves Scandshar by way of teleport at the end of the day.

Bezaldooz targets Dawnslight for his teleport spell, but this spell is apparently also off-target, as it dumps the Shields out in a field. Peren estimates thirty or so miles to the foothills of the Bloodstone Crags, and thirty or so miles to the Feywalk Woods. It would probably be a day or two, at least, to Dawnslight. They instead decide to rest in Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion for the night, and start heading south in the morning.

Travel is uneventful on Starday, Ready’reat 22. They camp a few miles from the edge of the forest. The next day is also uneventful, apart from an easily-dispersed cloud of buzzing insects they encounter in the woods. They arrive at the outskirts of the orc camp in the late afternoon of Sunday, Ready’reat 23. The camp comprises wooden forts and palisades, decorated with skulls and typical gruesome iconography. The occasional sagging ruin of an Elven treetop dwelling may be seen. Strangely, most of the typical Gruumsh mythos iconography is missing; instead, many of the decorations involve eye motifs.

Using the woods as cover, the Shields observe the camp for a time, estimating perhaps 1,000 or so residents, 500 of whom are battle ready. They see the occasional war party leaving or returning as they watch. They decide to sneak into camp, near the slave pens, and attack from surprise.

It works. Peren throws a javelin and invokes an elven spell, multiplying it into hundreds of javelins. It tears through one of the military tents in the middle of a meeting, killing probably half the fighting force. Bezaldooz takes out five of the nastier lieutenants in the ruins of the tent with a well-placed ice storm, while the remaining war chief, in mid-speech, is incredibly confused at the sudden onslaught. Torinn shoots him with his musket, which only grazes him, and he still stands.

Orcs start boiling out of tents, preparing for battle, but are demoralized to see the damage that has already been done to the camp. Bosabrieln yells threats that they may be allowed to live if they stand down — given the sorcerous powers these invaders have already shown, that seems like a fair bargain to many present. A tall, grotesque, rubbery creature — a troll — rushes out of one of the tents and makes a beeline for Bezaldooz; it is scorched by a fireball from Bezaldooz and stunned by a well-placed dissonant whispers from Bosabrieln. Meanwhile, when an orc witch — tusks gleaming, bones braided into her hair, robe replete with painted eye — emerges from a tent. She shouts that the orcs must fight, or else the Esteemed Lord will devour them all. She invokes a brief spell and glows slightly, evidently some sigil of protection.

Peren moves to engage her, casts silence, and turns a potential magical duel into a one-on-one fight. The orcs seem to accept this, although the orc witch seems very angry and distressed that she is forced to fight this elf alone. She flees him once, demanding that the others come to her aid as she invokes some spell and wreathes her hand in shadow. But it is already too late — after Torinn closes with the war chief and slays him, he rushes to assist Bezaldooz with the troll, decapitating the thing while its wounds are still cauterized from Bezaldooz’s fire bolt. With the other combatants defeated, the Shields fully turn on the orc witch and kill her.

One of the orcish war chiefs steps forward, a brute known as Snakhagr, and Bosabrieln expresses his terms that they release the slaves unharmed and leave this place, never to return. Snakhagr is displeased with this development, but understands they have little choice. He frames this as their punishment for turning away from Gruumsh and the witch’s reverence of the Esteemed and Omniscient Peacock Lord. As such, he accepts the terms; the tribe will need a day to pack their things and vacate the premises.

Bosabrieln also inquires about the other two slaver tribes. Snakhagr doesn’t know specifics, but Caveghost Clan is a fellow clan of orcs that primarily sticks to the deepearth, making surface raids on villages and such. Clan Deadmoon is a group of goblins that make raids on trade caravans and travelers.

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Truth or Consequences, Part 2

Sunday, Ready’reat 16, 552 CY (50 AN)

While Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Valna are stuck having an awkward breakfast with the Duchess, Torinn is off wandering around Duchy Jepson. As is often the case, his shield guardian accompanies him. He realizes he’s absently wandering towards the Wizard’s Tower, as if drawn there. Suspicious, but curious, he decides to follow the feeling into the tower, although he avoids the basement where he is evidently being drawn. Instead, he heads for the Headmaster’s office.

The Headmaster seems confused as to why he’s here — didn’t Torinn have breakfast with the Duchess this morning? — but is undaunted as Torinn explains he’s looking for a book on cursed items and other such subjects. The Headmaster indicates there’s likely nothing appropriate in his office library. Did Torinn check the Tower’s library? He didn’t, but wanted something more specialized. The Headmaster directs him to Magister Remegni’s office, as Remegni is the school’s specialist in anatomy and hexes.

Magister Remegni seems deeply surprised to see Torinn at his door (Torinn surmises it’s because a scholar wouldn’t expect to see the fighter at his door), but lends him a couple of books on the subject without trouble.

He feels a bit better about his predicament when he wanders back downstairs, so he decides to head to the basement. After wandering, he finds himself in a disused corridor, eventually making his way into an empty and somewhat dusty room. A stone face emerges from the stone wall, proclaiming him the “Heir to House Voiddrake” and bidding him welcome. The stonework falls away, revealing a stone tunnel leading into the wall. Torinn, understandably curious, lights a torch and wanders inside.

Moving down the corridor, Torinn finds a room with a fountain and three doorways — on the left is a circular door with a stylized sigil upon it, straight ahead is an opening partitioned by a curtain of blood, and on the right is a glowing portal. The room is illuminated with a soft glow. A figure, evidently the form of a woman made of water, emerges from the pool; Torinn prepares to fight, but she indicates she means no harm. She gestures to the doors, inquiring which he chooses: the Path of Binding, the Path of Blood, or the Path of Leaves. He inquires further: the Path of Binding will test his debating skill, the Path of Blood his power, and the Path of Leaves his knowledge. He decides on the Path of Blood. He passes through, only to realize the shield guardian has not joined him. A dull, red light suffuses the room. Torinn has another moment to realize that a misty figure of some ancient knight has appeared, and battle is joined.

The ghostly warrior summons another five such warriors, and although they are mighty, they are no match for Torinn. His axe cleaves through them as though they were solid, while their blows are still largely absorbed by his armor. It is barely even a minute before all the ghosts are dispelled and the room is still.

When the dust settles, a pillar rises in the middle of the room and a book appears upon it. Entitled the Tome of Leadership and Influence, it is a heavy book bound with a strange metallic covering depicting a king and studded with jewels. He takes the book and returns through the now-reopened Path of Blood. Once he leaves the basement, he returns to his inn room to study, learning that the Tome of Leadership promises arcane techniques to enhance one’s force of personality — and also possibly activate the latent magic in Torinn’s blood.

Meanwhile, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Valna continue their somewhat awkward day, breakfasting with the Duchess before parading through town and gathering so Bosabrieln can tell the tales of the Shields’ mighty deeds. Peren slips away during the parade, although Valna signals to Bosabrieln that she saw where he went.

Peren, for his part, wanders around town looking for suspicious activity. Finding none, he decides to shop instead, buying a few supplies he thinks may come in handy — some enchanted javelins and a decanter of endless water. Once he has finished, he quietly returns to the gathered crowd.

As evening approaches, Bezaldooz receives a message in his mind, a sending from Magister Remegni. He asks Bezaldooz to slip away from the group and head north, into an alley. Bezaldooz agrees and slips away; Bosabrieln and Peren lose sight of him, while Valna signals to Bosabrieln that she saw where he went.

Bezaldooz slips into an alley and finds Magister Remegni waiting for him. He indicates it’s time to be properly initiated into their conspiracy. Does Bezaldooz agree? He does. Remegni speaks a word of teleportation and Bezaldooz’s surroundings change.

He finds himself in one of the rooms in the hill giants’ steading, far to the north. Three coffins sit in a row upon the floor. Eleven silent, robed figures stand in preparation. Remegni explains that there are three sins the supplicant must defeat if they wish to properly join House Remegni. As one of the robed figures opens the first coffin — revealing the nude form of Lady Jansaadi, a stake through her heart — Remegni intones that the first sin is compassion. It was compassion that stayed her hand and revealed the conspiracy to Bezaldooz’s friends, and he must overcome that sin. Drink her dry and extinguish her essence. As Bezaldooz approaches, her eyes plead with him, a ghastly rasp issues from her throat. He does not hestitate; he drinks her dry, until her body crumbles into dust.

Remegni explains the second sin is light as a robed figure opens the second coffin, revealing the prone form of Abbot Aelius. He is wearing a simple white robe, he is bound, and he appears to be drugged. Remegni explains the light was issued forth from the gods at the beginning of time to limit the power of the dark, and it must be extinguished both in oneself, and without, to properly assume one’s full potential.

Bezaldooz, being well aware that Abbot Aelius is Valna’s adopted father, hesitates, then makes his decision. Bezaldooz intones syllables of power — Remegni attempts to perform the countersign to negate the spell, but it fails — and the world around Bezaldooz freezes. In the stillness, he opens the third coffin to find the prone form of Ekaterina within, also wearing a robe and bound. He then intones the syllables of teleportation to flee for the stage where he last saw Bosabrieln and Valna, bringing Aelius and Ekaterina with him.

He appears on the stage with the bound and drugged Aelius and Ekaterina. Bosabrieln’s tale is cut short, and the group quickly hurries back to the Addled Alchemist. Torinn, hearing the commotion outside, sees this and joins the group. Bosabrieln opens a portal to Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion, and the group enters.

Bosabrieln asks what happened, and Bezaldooz explains that Remegni summoned him to the giants’ steading, where he has established a base. Valna is praying in the corner, and the proceedings are interrupted by a flash of light that shines down on Bezaldooz. He suddenly recognizes that he is freed from the curse of undeath, and although he is now mortal, he feels better than he has for a while. Peren sprays him with the decanter of endless water as a “test” to see if he has returned to the land of the living. He continues with his story, leaving out the part where he killed Jansaadi, but otherwise informing them of his activities. He also notes that Remegni has apparently established relations with a group of vampires in the land of Nadhi; the rakshasa who wanted to speak with him in Flamefall Tower was specifically inquiring about that possibility. Valna also heals Aelius and Ekaterina, and learn that they were approached by people from the school, adepts named Phamath and Tanza, both of whom are known to Aelius. They must have been bewitched and drugged before being transported to the north.

Although the Shields are eager to confront Remegni and his vampire coven, they decide they should rest first. Later in the evening, Bosabrieln asks Bezaldooz if he is truly well, and shares a drink with him. Valna hugs him, and says she’s glad he’s better. She will accompany the Shields to the giants’ steading, but will no doubt leave shortly thereafter.

The next morning, Moonday, Ready’reat 17, the group decides to immediately head to the giants’ steading when they awaken. Bezaldooz intones the syllables to teleport, and the scenery changes.

They find themselves in a wooden room, clearly of giant make, although some features look different than the entryway they recall. When they exit, they find themselves in a vast forest — Peren guesses they’re in the Feywalk woods, several hundred miles south of their target. It would appear they teleported to some random hill giant’s house in the woods. Bezaldooz intones teleport again.

This time, they appear to arrive in the correct place. However, a thorough search of the giants’ steading yields nothing. The coffins from last night, including one filled with ash and dust, are still there, but anything of value appears to have been stripped. The Shields briefly consider investigating the old lava tubes beneath the steading, but surmise that the vampires probably fled elsewhere rather than down. They’re gone, and have left nothing of value behind. With that, Bezaldooz traces a teleportation circle to return to Duchy Jepson.

Once there, the group decides to rest for a day before heading to Scandshar — Bosabrieln has some personal business, while the others are keen on bloodying the nose of the slavers. When they check with the Wizard’s Tower, the Headmaster indicates they have recovered nothing of value from the offices of the missing, and he suspects no vampires remain. But he will let the Shields know if he finds anything.

The next morning, Godsday, Ready’reat 18, Valna officially parts company to settle her affairs in Duchy Jepson. Aelius and Ekaterina will stay in the care of the Wizard’s Tower. The remaining Shields transport by teleportation circle to Scandshar.

Arriving in the dockside market, the whisper quickly travels through the crowd that the Shields of the Sorrowfell are here. They decide that they will go talk to Count Brissot first.

As they walk through the streets of Scandshar, they are surprised when Bezaldooz is struck by a crossbow bolt, evidently poisoned by the burning it causes when it strikes. They look up to see a somewhat rotund figure clad in black ducking down behind the lip of a building. Another figure in black atop the building across the street looses another bolt, although it doesn’t quite hit its mark. Torinn activates his power armor to fly up the side of the building, while Peren activates his boots and free climbs the face of the opposite building. Although they are clearly well trained, if a bit odd, they are no match for the Shields of the Sorrowfell; Peren ends up decapitating the assassin he’s fighting, while the other one is knocked unconscious by a combination of sword and spell.

They haul the unconscious assassin into an alley and awaken him, interrogating him about this attack. He indicates there was a contract, and he can take them to his bosses at the Snuff Box. Bosabrieln uses seeming to disguise them as random travelers, and to disguise the fact that the assassin — evidently named Dicun; his partner was Mads — is bound.

Arriving at the Snuff Box, the doorman asks why Dicun wants these four strangers to gain access. He hesitates, prompting the doorman to guess that they’re the targets of his contract in disguise, and they’ve come to nullify the contract. Dicun agrees and the doorman ushers them inside.

Inside the club, the Shields drop the glamour as the pretense is broken. Dicun speaks to an older gentleman, and he retrieves the contract. He’ll dissolve it for the value of the contract, 10,000gp, as well as an extra 5,000gp for the death of their man. After a bit of haggling, Bosabrieln just agrees to pay the damn 15,000gp. The old man hands it over, and the contract was apparently drafted on behalf of a “Lady Griselda,” only two days ago. Bosabrieln then makes one final request: if the constituents of the Snuff Box do not release their slaves within the week, there will be trouble. The man appears to understand the threat, and says he will see to it. The Shields then leave.

After being accosted by some guards trying to determine what precisely happened with the assassins downtown, the Shields finally make it to Count Brissot’s apartments. He seems surprised, but pleased, to see them, although he notes they appear to have seen battle already. They explain their encounter with the assassins, and he replies the only Lady Griselda he knows is a most aged member of House Ehrenfest; she seems unlikely to have issued a contract for their lives. When asked about further information, he repeats the news of the troubles with the Scandshar Six, and also notes that a band of orcs kidnapped a noblewoman yesterday. It’s being kept quiet because the house involved is the current House of Fools, House Anghelescu. He also remarks that Darstina Tallcrippler is currently out on assignment. Whenever she returns, she will likely have information of interest to the Shields.

Bosabrieln also presents Count Brissot with 15,000gp, to be donated to the abolitionist efforts. He is most pleased with this donation.

As he doesn’t explicitly know anything further, and since the Shields of the Sorrowfell have no desire to bring assassins upon his doorstep, they will let him alone for now. But they will keep him apprised of their activities within the city.

Before leaving the Brissot residence, Bosabrieln asks if Count Brissot knows where the Sisterhood of Sharess is located. He has a servant look into the matter and determines it’s near the border of the entertainment district and the temple district.

Leaving the Brissot residence, they decide to rent rooms at an inn. To be extra cheeky, they decide to return to The Laughing Maiden, which they know to be under the protection of the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks.

The manager is extremely surprised to see them, and more than a little intimidated, but readily rents them an inn room. (They specifically request a single room, for security reasons.) Trudging upstairs, Bezaldooz and Torinn decide to study, while Bosabrieln and Peren each have plans to go out. Bosabrieln applies makeup and a mustache to Peren to make him less recognizable. Peren is then going to rest to recover from his battle with the assassins while Bosabrieln goes out for a bit; he shouldn’t be too long, and he doesn’t expect trouble.

Bosabrieln wanders to the entertainment district to find the Sisterhood of Sharess. He’s only a handful of blocks away when he is surprised by a hand clamping a pungent rag over his face. He manages to hold his breath long enough to pull away, improvise a quick invisibility glamour, and start to move away. The woman chasing him is dressed like a prostitute, but he notices that she’s covered with makeup, concealing her true skin tone. She has the lithe build of a trained assassin. He runs, but is again surprised when she clamps a hand on his shoulder and shoves a dagger into his side, whispering in his ear, “You breathe too loud.” He feels burning pain from the dagger wound, suggesting poison, although he stumbles away and manages to dazzle her with a power word: stun. He flees into a tangle of nearby alleys, and despite her swift recovery and pursuit, he manages to change his appearance to that of a somewhat generic-looking woman with disguise self and lose the assassin.

Bosabrieln manages to stumble the rest of the way to the Sisterhood of Sharess without incident. The façade is suggestive of an ancient desert temple, like one of the archaic ones from the Kharha Desert. There is also a subtle cat motif worked into the artwork. He notes a young man, perched in a hiding spot across the street. He’s either watching the place or casing it, as the case may be. When Bosabrieln enters, he notes the same desert and cat theme within. He encounters a woman at the front desk, and inquires if anyone knew one Amandine Fenn. The woman at the front desk appears to not recognize the name, but says she’ll fetch the madame; she does ask if he consents to be searched, which prompts him to drop the glamour and reveal himself — and the bleeding wound under his ribs.

After a moment, a well-dressed middle-aged woman with white hair arrives with a couple of attendants. She introduces herself as Madame Nefere, and bids the attendants to dress his wounds, prompting an inquiry as to what happened. (She is not entirely surprised to learn he’s apparently Bosabrieln Peredhel Zivkovic.) Acknowledging the request about Amandine, Nefere bids him to accompany her so they can talk in private.

She explains that she knew Amandine; Amandine arrived here before she did, many years ago. They both served under the previous madame, and Amadine served roughly a decade before she died. She was a truly lovely person, with a beautiful singing voice, as Nefere recalls. Bosabrieln has a strong resemblance; Nefere shows her a portrait she keeps in a locket around her neck. Nefere remembers when the elves arrived a quarter century ago; Bosabrieln’s father insisted on bringing the child back to his village, while his father’s friend (and the other sisters) argued he ought to stay here. Despite subsequently hearing of the bard Vianibrar, she never made the connection that Bosabrieln was Amandine’s child. She also mentions that Bosabrieln has a half-brother, much to Bosabrieln’s surprise; Vianibrar never mentioned him. He asks about his half-brother, and Nefere explains that he was raised here, and acts as a watchman. Bosabrieln expresses an interest in meeting him, and Nefere bids him to wait a moment; she leaves. Several minutes later, the young man from across the street enters. He, too, has a slight resemblance to the face Bosabrieln sees in the mirror. He introduces himself as Warwick Fenn, and indicates he barely recalls his mother and when the elves came. They exchange a few pleasantries before the tactiurn Warwick takes his leave.

With that, Bosabrieln notes that he will likely leave, but hopes to return. He notes that there appears to be little influence from the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks in the Sisterhood, and Nefere notes that they must pay protection, but have largely managed to keep free of their influence. He also uses the sending stone to contact Peren, asking if he can escort him back to the inn.

Peren, for his part, was starting to wander the city when he hears from Bosabrieln, so he makes his way over to the Sisterhood of Sharess. Bosabrieln again masquerades as a woman to hide his appearance, and bids the ladies farewell. They exit.

Since Peren has been considering staging a raid on the gladiator pits, he and Bosabrieln decide to case the place by acting as married tourists and seeing the sights. Over the course of the afternoon, they blow 500gp to establish themselves as high rollers from out-of-town, watching a gladiatorial match, going to restaurants, and generally experiencing the local color. They secretly gain intelligence on security around the entertainment district, particularly around the arenas. Coupled with Peren’s previous experience on the subject, they form a fairly complete picture of what to expect if infiltrating the pits.

One bit of badness, though: while at a café, they notice a young man, somewhat distraught, carrying a satchel. He looks somewhat nervous. Bosabrieln and Peren agree to maintain a safe distance, in case he does something strange. Shortly thereafter, he stands atop the table and loudly announces, “May my chains be broken!” He withdraws a pouch and puts it inside the satchel; when he does, the bags fold inside themselves, forming an abyssal vortex that draws everything inside ten feet or so of the center — chairs, tables, and the people sitting in them. The people on the street erupt into panic and flee as Bosabrieln and Peren make their way elsewhere, although they hear a similar commotion arise from one of the nearby arenas. Alarm bells briefly sound, but the district shortly returns to normal. With the excitement done, they decide to return to The Laughing Maiden.

While Bosabrieln and Peren are away, Bezaldooz and Torinn are studying. They are interrupted by a knock on the door; Bezaldooz keeps studying while Torinn rises to answer. It is a hotel servant named Brenda, bringing room service they evidently did not order. Torinn refuses it, explaining that it was probably some manner of prank, and offers her a silver. She refuses it, saying she cannot accept it, but when she tries to hand it back, Torinn refuses to touch it, instructing her to just drop it on the floor. She sheepishly takes the cart away, returning to ask if there are any precautions she should convey to the rest of the staff. Torinn has none.

The second interruption comes from another knock. Torinn answers this time to find a guard. The guard addresses him, asking a couple of questions regarding the ruckus downtown, but he also holds out a note for Torinn to read, instructing them to meet someone at midnight at The Drunken Goblin. The guardsman retains the message once it’s clear Torinn has read and acknowledged it. When he is done with his questions, he leaves, although he picks up the silver on his way out. Torinn watches for a bit to make certain the guard doesn’t drop dead from poisoning, then returns to his room.

When Bosabrieln and Peren return to The Laughing Maiden, they inform Bezaldooz and Torinn of what they learned, as well as the strange attack near the arenas. Torinn relates the encounter with the servant, as well as the guard. After discussion, they further decide that they’re going to try to raid the gladiator pits tonight, preferably if they can get some assistance from any friendly local guards. But first, they’ll meet with their mystery contact at The Drunken Goblin.

The Shields rest for several hours. As time approaches, they disguise themselves with seeming and head to The Drunken Goblin, down near the wharf district. They arrive withut incident, finding a run-down bar containing only a few sullen drunks and a cloaked traveler. Once Bezaldooz ascertains that the cloaked figure seems to be waiting for someone, he informs the others and they signal. The figure, a woman armed with a broadsword, joins them. She demands some sign that they are the people for whom she is waiting; Torinn presents the diminutive pixie skull he wears, and this seems to satisfy her. She refuses to give a name, but in light of the messenger she sent, the travelers to can refer to her as Captain. She explains that she has labored too long under the true masters of this city, and is on the travelers’ side. If they need assistance, she will provide it, although she may have to speak or act against them publicly. The Shields inquire about the attack near the arenas earlier today, and the Captain notes that such attacks by the Broken Chain are all-too-frequent. They further ask if she can potentially pull Scandshar Watch off the arenas tonight, for maybe half an hour or so. She says she can probably arrange something. Will the 3 AM guard shift change work? The Shields believe it will.

She also notes that she is unable to guarantee the safety of their conversations, as she has little way to guard her mind against the Peacocks’s sorcerers. Do they have some secure method of communications? Bosabrieln has sending and dream at his disposal, so he can likely maintain secure contact. (With regard to dream, she usually sleeps at regular, nightly intervals.) She does note, though, that she could always be compromised in the future (assuming she is not already), and she is risking her life to contact them, so it is always possible she may just… disappear. The Shields acknowledge this, and appreciate her assistance. With that, she is off to ensure that things happen on schedule. The Shields likewise proceed to continue to plan their infiltration of the gladiator pits.

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