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.