Thursday, November 8, 2012

Session 28

{Game Clock resumes @ 8: 01am 04/21/3200}

Everyone is trudging along the road heading west to the Fang Mountains… again.  They all follow Thingerlun as he leads them off the road to a suitably clear area.  They wait and check over what little gear they have left while Thingerlun and Sythrixis draw out the circle for walking the planes.

{Storyteller to Thingerlun’s player; “You do realize that if at any point Thing doesn’t roll high enough… or botches one of this teleports… that I’m going to send him and Syth off on to their side quest to find their lost brother? 

Player; “By himself?”

Storyteller; “Yep, the game continues with everyone else and you play Bob.”

Player says nothing, but turns pale.}

Milo and Hearn both attempt to bless Thingerlun that he might safely transport them to Silverton, but neither of the gods is willing to offer such reassurances; though each deity is willing to bestow a minor boon to Thingerlun’s combat prowess.  Though considering Elyr’s views on violence, this is technically an insult.  Thingerlun presses onward and makes an arcane connection with his Patron in order to gain clarity of focus.  He succeeds, but only just barely.  To everyone he yells; “Quickly, into the circle while this lasts!”  And he finishes the incantation.

From everyone else’s perspective it seemed as if the spell casting wasn’t going well, then Thingerlun sliced himself open and started bleeding onto the runes to lend them extra power.  Then they were all standing in the middle of the road again; staring down into the Silver Vale, just as they had done a little over two months ago.  It seemed like ages and the mountain town that they’d helped to free from the clutches of an evil, were-rat Bard hadn’t done well in their absence.  The majority of it had been completely demolished save for a few buildings near the old garrison and the temple of Ormazdd.  They could see that the sun towers upon the west and eastern crests of the valley’s walls were still intact; but the sky was a sullen grey and the towers had no light to shine upon the vale below.  Thingerlun was pale and weaker than they remembered and Sythrixis supports him by walking along side as the start walking.

An hour or so of walking down the many switchbacks finds them back on somewhat familiar ground.  The rail station is still operational and in one piece.  The inn across the court yard from the station, where they’d found Ffwylldyr’s imposter, was just a pile of rubble filling in its cellar.  There were a couple of large boulders on top of the debris.  As they looked around they saw even more boulders like these strewn about the wreckage of the town.  There had been a battle here and Thingerlun points at the boulders and the great piles of greasy ash that the rains had failed to wash away; “Those look like the bodies of giants.”  A mighty blast startles them, and then confuses them as it echoes about the valley.

Voice from behind the remains of the wall of the collapsed inn’s yard; “HALT AND IDENTIFY YOURSELVES!”

Everyone dives off into defensive postures and readies their weapons and Bob yells; “YOU FIRST!”
A guard steps out with a loaded crossbow aimed in their direction; “Private Smith, Silverton Militia!  Now who are you and what do you want here?!”

Milo; “You don’t recognize us?  We were the ones who liberated this town not long ago… you should take us to your commander.  He’ll sort this out.”

They see dust and smoke from the general direction of the Imperial silver mine at the northwest end of the vale; looking to each other and then all of them turn to look at Milo and he says; “Well, I guess we should check in at the garrison?”  They all follow the guard off in the direction of the blast.  Their trek through the remains of the once vibrant center of civilization in these mountains takes them passed the temple of Ormazdd.  Milo takes a few moments to inspect it.  He sees that the building is undamaged, but its inner glow has been suppressed just as his had been ever since he shattered the Eye of Night.  There is a sense of foreboding about the temple now and Milo decides that now is not the time to deal with this and they press on to the garrison.

They chuckle and smile a bit as they walk up to the garrisons HQ as they remember being terrified and trying to fit everyone in there for an uncomfortable night’s sleep; and how they’d manage to trick that zombie into opening the door for them.  A few moments of waiting while the private sticks his head passed the door to announce them; he then opens the door and ushers them in, closing the door behind them to stand guard outside.

With the walking easier along the floor of the valley, Sythrixis had taken the opportunity to fly lazily about the vale; but Bellina was, as always not more than arms-length from Wysera as she waited impatiently with the rest for the Garrison commander to acknowledge their existence.  It was the idle clucking from the overlarge chicken that finally broke the commander’s composure, but as he looked up to see they were there all he could say way; “Oh, right.  It’s you lot.  That’s the last thing I need right now.”  He goes back to signing the stack of papers in front of him for a few more seconds as the adventurers are shocked by his brusqueness.

Bob; “What do you mean… ‘Oh… it’s you lot’?!”

Commander; “Oh sorry, …ahem.. Oh look, it’s our great and mighty saviors!  Come to finally clean up after themselves.  Heh! Adventurers.  Now let’s see some travel papers. ”

As they all show their ID’s and the articles of entitlement for their company of arms to operate at large and towards unspecified but important Imperial goals Milo says; “But things were OK when we left?  All they had to do was damn up the creek and let it flow back into the mine and then add the potion.”

Commander; “And just how long do you think it took them to start squabbling?  When we got here the few folks who hadn’t turned into rats were fighting over who got how much treasure!  And they weren’t going to do anything about the cursed silver until after they’d got the loot divvied up!  We had to bust a few heads before they settled down and got to work on damning up the creek; though I admit we’d have had a difficult time of it without Pat and that other fellow…. Cinai lad.”

Hearn; “Pat and Aerin?!  Do they live? We lost track of them.”

Commander; “Yes, as far as I know.  Pat is still wandering about these hills, but Aerin wandered off to find his people.  She checks in every few days or so.”  He checks his log book, “In fact she’ll likely be here tomorrow or the next day if she’s following any kind of regular pattern.”

Thingerlun; “What was that blast we heard earlier?”

Commander; “Oh that.  I hardly notice them anymore.  That’s some local Daenkelder from the Stonhiem Clan helping us blast open the Imperial mine.  After we finally got the potion dumped into the water supply, things started to clear up quick.  We were commanded to make all haste by edict of the Imperial Court.  They will be sending reinforcements and laborers as soon as possible.  Will that be all?  The Garrison doesn’t run itself you know.”  He sits back down and looks their orders and ID’s over again, “Your command seems somewhat smaller than this lists out, you’ll need to update the roles of the dead and wounded.  And I’ll have no recruiting here.  I need everyone I’ve got and then some.”  Handing back the papers he continues; “This all seems in order, though detached service isn’t seen much anymore.  Must be important so I suspect you won’t be staying long?”

Milo; “No.”

Commander; “Well, that’s good.  If you all promise to behave you can commandeer a couple of tents and eat in the commissary with the rest of the troops.”  And he absently waves them out; “Dismissed.” And he goes back to his paperwork.

They file out and ask directions to where they can get their tents and set them up.  Archie excuses himself and he, Hank, and the sheep wander off to the Guild sub-station.   The rest slowly make their way to the supply depot, the mobile garrison looming ever larger in their view.  It was a curious thing in that it looked like any normal fortress of the Empire; a circular wall 40ft high and 15ft thick with an inner baily diameter of 200ft.  It has 3 equidistant towers of 35ft diameter and 60ft to the top of their conical turrets: except that this one can fly.  They are based upon an ancient design from the War of Divine Right, though the Imperial versions are quite a bit smaller.  They are designed to act as a mobile base of operations for the troops in the field and to interdict small vehicles, as well as an instant siege device for any buildings that can fit within its baily.  Mobile fortresses aren’t seen in the mountains much because the terrain rarely gives them a place to land and the overarching mountains negate any real advantage from the walls.  This one was inscribed with the name Jiet Garom which means Lion’s Den in the elder version of Imperial Common. The tents of the soldiers are clustered within the baily and everyone else is encamped in similar tents clustered around the bases of the three towers, each furnished with a sally gate of its own. 

After visiting the Quartermaster’s office they gather some essential equipment and set up their camp outside the garrison’s southern gate.  After a few minutes Lex says that she is going to find out if there are any taverns set up yet; Wysera and Hearn decide to tag along while Thingerlun gets some rest.  Bob, Milo and Sythrixis stay to watch the camp.  Kemryn excuses himself to go ‘entertain the troops’ and do a little snooping of his own.  Lex, Wysera, and Hearn eventually find a cluster of tents that have been converted into a brewery and a distillery.  Both are civilian affairs and each is packed full of miners and soldiers trying to forget how board and lonely they are.  Neither is patroned by anyone who wants to talk to them, but as they are getting ready to leave and go back to their tents; Pat strides into the make-shift tavern to a rousing cheer from its patrons.

Hearn wanders over and greats the Ranger enthusiastically; “PAT!  You’re alive!  Where have you been and what happened to you?!” and she leads the battle worn Ranger to meet the newest members of the party.  Lex just gives a nod; Wysera greets the newcomer politely, but goes back to her drinking and listens to Pat’s story.

Pat; “Well, after the fire by the Grenvec substation was extinguished, I found myself standing next to Aeron and we were on a ledge overlooking the old Gannu mine.  There is a Hamadryad there who begged us to stop the Imperial Sappers from blasting the mine closed because it would damage her tiny little grove.  We managed to convince the Imperials to reduce the charge and move it further into the mine.  This did the trick, but our tasks were far from over.  After that we helped the local fae deal with the spirit of the Silver Rill.”

Wysera; “The what?”

Pat points back over her shoulder; “The creek that runs down the center of the valley.  That Poor Naiad had become so foul and corrupt that she had to be dispatched along with a small horde of mutated Mud Mephits.”  She shudders involuntarily; “AND you know where that muck came from… to see it become animate; then the giants attacked.” Quaffs her ale. 

Hearn; “That bad?”

Pat; “Yes.  The stone giants sieged the valley when they realized how vulnerable we were.  If the Jiet Garom hadn’t been here already I don’t even think the temple of Ormazdd or the Guild Sub-station would have survived.  All other temples were lost along with most of the buildings in town.  Not much can withstand 2 weeks of continuous bombardment with boulders the diameter of wagon wheels.  But with the Garrison and the few remaining townsfolk and a little Fae trickery, we managed to inflict enough damage to send the giants off to find easier prey.  Since then I’ve been helping the Fae to hunt down and eliminate the were-rats that escaped into the hills.”  When the soldiers and Miners figure out that the newcomers are friends of Pat everyone relaxes and they eventually head back to the tents.  The party rests for the evening in relative safety.

In the morning they wake to find Archie in a run down version of the small power wagon that they’d used on the trek from Grenvec to the army camp not so long ago.  This one had seen better days, and Archie tells them; “Well, this model doesn’t fold into a shipping crate like the other one; but it will hold all of us and our gear as long as Lex and the Dragon don’t try to ride in it.”
Thingerlun and Lex both; “No problem there.”

Archie; “I should warn you that traveling by power cart is a lot less comfortable than what you’re familiar with.  For starters, they kart has a suspension system, but these are still hard, metal rimmed wheels on a rock solid surface.  About 10 hours is all most folks can take, myself included, so we’ll need to stop off at some of the Imperial road shelters… and they’re rather expensive because they know only a fool sleeps out in the open in these mountains.  Oh, Sorry Pat… rangers excluded of course.”

Milo; “How long will it take to get to the Soulgrave.”

Archie; “From here it will be 2 ten hour days and an overnight at a shelter before we get to Tilik’s Landing.  Then we portage from there to Tilik’s Drop and on to the Free City of Soulgrave.  That part takes a bit longer; it’s 173 miles through the mountains, so that’s 2 ten hour days and stopovers, plus a third day of less than 10 hours.  Oh, and we’ll be well over ten thousand feet of altitude so you might get a bit wheezy.”

Thingerlun; “Wonderful.  I suspect there is a strong chance of Giants in our near future.”  They set off up into the heart of the Fang Mountains, and spend most of the day with the road gently pitching higher the farther they traveled.  They spent a lot of the time with nothing but empty space on their left as the mountain dropped shear away to the east; and had an implacable wall of mountains to their right.  Twilight started at around 2 in the afternoon.

They were surprised by the fact that the only thing that happens on the first day of travel is that they are stopped by one of the Griffon Riders of the Sable March.  Kemryn informs them that they are the elite of the elite.  The Sable March being the Knightly Order that acts as Palace Guards and keepers of the lands in and around Archbridge, the northern Imperial capital; the Griffon Riders are the elite order within those knights and are tasked with both border patrol and in emergencies like this one, they carry the Imperial communications. He adds at the end as the rider and griffon are gracefully circling down to land in front of them; “Oh yah, and they never travel alone… I think a Flight of them has a dozen plus commander.”

Rider; “Stand too and be recognized citizens, why be you on his majesty’s roads?”

Milo; “Company on detached service; we have the right of free travel.”

The rider had approached them and had his hand outstretched; “Truly? I need to see that… Hm… What do you know, or rather who?  The last parts of the question were mumbled mostly to himself.

Thingerlun; “What’s the road up ahead like?”

Rider, handing back their packet of orders; “well the road is mostly clear, no traffic has come down out of the Free City of Soulgrave since the passes have cleared.  The few communications that have come out of the place are confusing; but there is evidence that the Soulgrave itself has been damaged by the Silver Plague.  Random reports of strife and general anarchy.”

Lex; “Yikes, that’s not good.”

Wysera; “May we pass?”

Rider; “Yes, everything seems to be in order here.  Safe travels.”  He waves them onward and then watches them for a while as he saunters back to his waiting friend.  They take off and circle the kart for a few times than he heads of towards the garrison at Silverton.

They stop at the third rest shelter because it is getting to be too dark to travel safely and they can barely walk after sitting in the kart all day.  The hostel sits on a tiny ledge of land that might have been carved out of the rocks specifically for this purpose; it looks like a combination of Inn and bunker, with an emphasis on the latter because there was a huge but strangely regular cavern cut into the mountain for storage of their vehicle. The rest of the place consists of a two story stone house with closed wooden shutters and a thick, 10ft wall about the hostel with a connecting walkway to the garage as Archie called it.  There is no color to the place and even its high peaked slate roof is just another drab grey smudge on the eye.

They make their way inside to see that there is only a couple of old, grizzled Trappers sitting on opposite sides of the room ignoring each other.  They were deep into their ale and merely glanced at the new arrivals for a quick moment to size of the potential threat. They seemed unimpressed and were just as happy to ignore the newcomers as well.  The ostler, a human in his late fifties, came into the main room from what sounded like the kitchen.  He barely cracked a smile and says; “Rooms for how many?”

Milo; “Three, one for Hearn, Lex, Wysera and her chicken…”

Ostler; “No livestock, she’ll have to stay outside in the barn; and that’ll be extra.”

Thingerlun; “Then we’ll need to discuss the dragon…”

Ostler, actually chuckling a little; “Excellent jest good sir.  Seriously, how many rooms?  We’ve had no traffic in weeks, so I’ve plenty to spare.”

Sythrixis pokes his head in through the front door; bugling disgruntledly and in Thingerlun’s mind; WHAT DO YOU MEAN I’LL HAVE TO STAY IN THE BARN!  Where I come from those are called snack shacks!  NO WAY!!”

Wysera is having similar objections about the need to house the company’s luck mascot in the barn; but the Ostler stands firm; “GET THAT THING OUT OF MY INN! I can sleep in the barn too.  It’s my way or you’re sleeping on the Highway tonight.  And you should know that it smells like rain out there.”

Thingerlun whispers to Wysera; “I’ve an idea, follow me with the chicken.”

Wysera; “Her name’s Bellina you know.”

Thingerlun; “Fine. Sure, just bring her along.”  They leave and Thingerlun says to Wysera and 
Sythrixis; “Have Bellina jump onto Syth’s back and then he’ll turn invisible.  You guys then follow us up the stairs to the rooms.”

Sythrixis; So now I’m to be ridden by poultry!

Thingerlun; “It’s temporary, or you have to sleep outside tonight and guard Bellina.”

Sythrixis; Fine.

They return inside to find that it has cost them 3 gold for the two rooms, food and lodging; true highway robbery when the normal rates were maybe 5 silver anywhere else; and it would cost them extra for baths and laundry if they needed these services.  They pay and settle in for the night; Kemryn sings for his supper and is given a few stale crusts and some weak pear cider.  He wasn’t that popular as he cannot play any instruments and no one seemed to appreciate ancient Kothian operettas.  They search the place with their eyes as best they can, but they are unable to shake a foreboding sense of impending doom.  They are unnerved enough that they set a watch to sit in the halls outside their rooms just in case the ostler or the other two patrons had criminal intent.
Lex Anne drew the short straw and had the dawn watch when she hears two dull thumps from downstairs.  She floats up to the ceiling and turns invisible and zooms along the hall and down the stairs quickly to try and surprise any intruders, but in her haste she flies strait into a lime green fog bank that seems to occupy the entire ground floor.  Lex accidentally breathes in some of the gas and starts to choke on the acidic vapors and becomes visible; she notices a couple of things in the haze.  The two trappers had fallen to the floor just a few feet from the door; and that there were choke pots disgorging their fumes into the rooms of the hostel.  She supposed that their fall or the choke pots had made the thumping noises she’d heard.  Then someone hits her in the back of the head so expertly that she knew it had to be a professional wielding the sap.  Lex hears a round of choke pots go off upstairs. 

{Choke Pot; Minor magic item that mimics the Choking Cloud spell that can be made by an alchemist with a DC 20 Alchemy check, or a wizard with a Craft Potion spell check equal to the DC of the Choking Cloud spell desired.  Alchemists can only make choke pots with DC’s of 16-18 and act as directed in the spell entry in the DCC core rules.  A wizard using the Craft Potion spell and the Choking Cloud spell can create choke pots of any strength the Choking Cloud spell will allow.  Meta-spell effects like directing the clouds to new locations may be allowed at the Storytellers discretion, but the generic versions available on the black market can only create one stationary cloud regardless of potency.}
Upstairs everyone was getting a rude awakening as a choke pot goes off in each room.  Everyone but Sythrixis, Bellina, and Hank fail their saves; but the choke pots upstairs don’t seem to be as powerful and everyone is able to function at half capacity.  They immediately notice that they’ve become less agile and the acidic vapors burn them from within.  Bob is the first to act and he fails at trying to open the grimy glass windows, Milo is out in the hall checking on Hearn and Wysera and sees that Hearn is near to collapsing so he drags her over to the window and promptly fails to open it.  Wysera was just coming off the watch when all this started, so she manages to get back down the hall and manages to see an elf standing over the still form of Lex Anne; whose body was hovering off the ground slightly at the bottom of the single flight of stairs.  Wysera snarls a raged battle cry as she leaps from the top of the stairs to try and body slam the Elf {MDoA attempt…} but the elf deftly sidesteps her awkward attack and she slams into the ground because the noxious vapors have addled her reflexes.

Back in the other room the fog has become so thick that they can barely see; Kemryn fails to open the window and notices that they’ve been nailed shut.  Thingerlun and Sythrixis leave the room and find their way to the top of the stairs.  He can barely make out the form of their attacker, but it is enough to target his Magic Missile spell.  Thingerlun feels a tremendous surge of power as he casts; thinking this is going to vaporize his target.  He is aghast when his spell seems to wither and attenuate from a flurry of powerful projectiles down to a single missile that seems to do little real damage. 
The silhouette dashes up the stairs and in the instant before the dragon leaps upon the figure.

Thingerlun sees that this assassin is an elf; but unlike any other he’d ever seen.  Physically there was little to distinguish this elf from any of the dozens of others he’d met or seen in passing over the years; but his  eyes… they were as devoid of compassion as they were full of a feral contempt for all other forms of life.  The elf seemed to radiate hatred in malevolent waves from the dark purple irises of his eyes; Thingerlun knew in his bones that this must be a Drow.  In spite of the impressive array of powers, the vile elf succumbed quickly to the claws of the dragon. 

{Player; “What the hell?  I rolled 6 powerful missiles?!”

Storyteller, grinning; “Spell resistance.”

Player; “There isn’t any spell resistance in DCC!”

Storyteller; “There is now.  The module called for an 8HD Drow assassin at some point, and when I converted it I had to come up with some way of emulating Spell & Damage resistance.  I subtract a certain amount from your casting total, if the total is still high enough to cast then it happens at the adjusted level.  If it fails it follows the rules for that spell, and if you get a 1 or less you make a Luck check to see if the wizard gets a misfire or corruption.  Have I mentioned that I love Drow assassins; they’re so delightfully free of scruples.  Look at the bright side, Sythrixis rolled max damage on both claw attacks and shredded it and he killed the drow with his bite.”}

 Pat destroys the window in their room as Hearn calls upon the grace of Elyr to remove the poison from her body that she might save her friends and succeeds in purging the toxin from her system but is still choking on the gas as Milo lifts her to the window so both of them can breathe better.  Everyone in the room hears Archie give a mighty, heaving, and bubbling choke then nothing; Hank manages to smash the glass and hammer the shutters open, he then wanders back towards Bob and Kemryn to grab Archie’s body.  Bob and Hearn fail their saves again, but everyone else makes theirs as they manage to make their way, staggering down the stairs.  Bob is first, and he slams the door open and the room starts to clear and they drag Lex and the dead assassin out into the night air of the hostel’s courtyard.  Hearn calls upon the power of Elyr to restore Lex’s vitality, and she is brought to consciousness while Hearn starts to methodically inspect and call upon Elyr’s grace for as many of her companions as she can. 

Thingerlun starts looking for Archie, because he was so obviously bad off.  He finds Hank cradling Archie’s tiny, lifeless body.  The blue porcelain face of the homunculus is distorted by grief into a silent scream of agony as Hank slowly rocks back and forth.  Thingerlun walks slowly up to Hank, making sure to be seen, an homunculus unbound was a truly dangerous and unpredictable creature.  Thingerlun gets close enough to confirm that Archie is dead; “DAMN IT! I’m sorry Hank.”  He moves closer and Hank looks up at him with such a tragic expression that Thingerlun shocked, because even though he knew that Homunculi, unlike golems, were capable of having real emotions; and this one had essentially just lost half of its soul.  Thingerlun readied his Magic Missile spell and fueled by his anger at the senselessness of it all manages to summon up a single massive bolt of arcane energy in the form of a comet; “I’m sorry Hank, but you know what must be done.”  Thingerlun releases the bolt at Archie’s tiny body and it is vaporized, but together they bury what is left.  “Come on Hank, you need to come with us, you know Homunculi aren’t allowed to function without a master, you can stay with us until you figure things out.”  By the time they come back around to the front of the inn, they are in time to see Bob backing away from the drow corpse saying; “I can’t find anything but these two rings.” {Having pocketed the gold already…}

Thingerlun is momentarily snapped out of his grief; “Rings?”

Lex, having recovered from her ordeal walks over to the body and without any fuss whatsoever goes straight to the right seam of the assassin’s leather armor and rips it savagely to reveal a secret stash of documents. Riffling through them she grunts, but says nothing.

Bob; “Neat trick,” pointing to the pages in her hands; “what does it say?”

Lex; “This one is a contract for the assassination of Wysera and all members of her family.”

Wysera; “WHAT!! NO! WHY!!”

Lex; “There is seldom any reason given, but you and your kin are worth 5000gp… each.  The other is a map… I think, but the language on it isn’t one I recognize.

Thingerlun looks over her shoulder and she flinches away; Thingerlun then says; “It looks like the language of the subterranean realms where the Drow live, but I’ve no idea what it says.  Everyone, I’ve got bad news… Archie is dead.”  Everyone is upset and they turn to Hank and offer condolences.

Milo turns to Thingerlun and lowers his voice, Lex leans in a bit so she can hear them; “You know what this means right?”

Thingerlun; “Yah, I know.  Imperial law won’t allow an homunculus to wander free, but we need him to run the Kart.”

Milo; “I know how to run these things…” Pauses for a moment; “Archie showed me how remember.”

Thingerlun, pointing to the garage; “True, but what if the kart beaks down?  I bet Hank can fix it up again.”

Milo; “OK, but Hank needs to be watched for signs that he is going nuts.”

Kemryn; “Someone should talk to him about it in a day or so, maybe he’ll be OK enough to discuss it?”

Hearn, having finished with her prayers to Elyr on everyone’s behalf; decides to cast a divine prayer to search the corpse for anything they might have missed.  The blessing is granted and she sees that the body has nothing else of value, but the rings are revealed to be a ring of flying and a ring of invisibility.  Thingerlun was holding them at the time and he just casually slips them on before anyone can stop him.  He examines the rings and sees that he ring of flying sparkles strangely.  A thin, swirling amber mist swirls trickles out of the topaz set in the ring; it coalesces briefly into a serpent and quickly strikes Thingerlun’s wrist and leaving a bloody blister.  Thingerlun’s shocked outburst and waving his arms causes the serpent to dissipate the instant after it strikes him.  He starts sweating profusely, gritting his teeth; “I seem to have found and disarmed a trap.” He seems to shake of the worst of the trap’s venom.  Though he starts seeing tracers on everything and the effect finally wears off around dawn.

Lex; “Yah, the hard way.”

They all look around and can’t find Hank, but a few moments later they see him trundling out of the garage, driving the Kart.  He stops in front of them; the look of agony has been replaced by a neutral expression nearly devoid of feeling except for a tiny down turn of his mouth and a light furrow to his brow.  They had gone to bed rather early and had planned 3 four hour watches to allow everyone to get all the sleep they need, but they assassination attempt had occurred at the beginning of the third shift so it was around 3 in the morning and still quite dark as they pack their gear and get on board.   Traveling out of the inn yard they turn to the right and head south, up into the mountains.  They travel unmolested until they see the silhouette of another griffon rider against the rising sun as it comes flying in from the east; as it gets closer they see that it is the same rider as before. He waves to them on a fly-by, not intending to stop, but they flag him down.

After he lands they approach him and tell him everything that had happened in the night and he is horrified; “A drow assassin you say!  That hardly seems credible.  More like you all robbed him and made up this story to cover your tracks!”

Milo; “If we were the culprit’s, why would we flag you down?  We could have let you could fly on by and no one would be any wiser to what happened?”

Bob; “You can go back and check, we left the stinking corpse in the in yard for the crows.”

The rider is taken back by both of these statements; “You make excellent points.  Very well, continue on, it’s not like there are any turnouts or cross roads, if you’re lying I can find you easy enough.”  He makes a strange clicking/ gargling noise and the griffon launches itself into the air; showering them with dust and debris, but causing no other problems.  Kemryn; “Someone gave last rights to the drow right?”

Hearn; “I did it after healing Lex.”

Everyone breathes a sigh of relief and several hours later they arrive at Tilik’s Landing; a small town that lay at the base of a cliff 500 feet high.  They see that rising up the cliff a few hundred yards straight in front of them as they are entering the town gate is a huge and complicated lifting system that is currently lifting some wagons to the top of the cliff.  They are stopped by an inspector who looks over their documents and then signs off on letting them getting into the queue for the elevator.  The clerk tells them that there is only one wagon train ahead of them, but it has several carts and might take three or four hours.  You can wait in the tavern over there across the square.”

Everyone is tired; they had a rough night and have already been on the road for ten hours so the idea of having to wait for another 3 or 4 just to get to the top of the cliff.  However, the lure of a hot meal and ale was too tempting to pass up.  This close to summer the temperature was dropping the higher up they travel, even with the sun nearly overhead it was still chilly; and quite cold if the wind picked up.  As things were, it was afternoon, and the sun was already setting behind the mountains to begin the extended twilight as they rested in the mountain’s shadow.

The inn is cleaner than the last one they stayed at, and more lively as well.  Tilik’s Landing was a small town of about 30 to 40 large families most of whom are crafters involved in the maintenance of the colossal lifts or they are folks like the inn keeper who catered to everyone.  Kemryn has had a somewhat dreamy look in his eyes all day and has been spending a lot of time staring out at the vistas and scribbling madly in his journal.  He starts to ramble at them as they are sitting at a table for their meal.  “Strange place Tilik’s Landing.  The cliff face cuts deep into the mountain a few hundred yards west, further up the mountain, but it travels for dozens of miles and gets taller the farther down the mountain you go.  It stops well before the demon plains and the water coursing down the channel at its base this time of year disappears into the earth.  The engineers were forced to either abandon the line or descend down to the Demon Plains and find another route through to Bli’ Hi. They chose to devise a system of portage to the top and continue on; it was an engineer named Tilik that figured out the system.”

After an hour they get impatient and decide to try and pull rank on the merchant that was in their way.  They loaded up in the kart and trundled over to the huge central square at the edge of town closest to the cliff.  There was room in the square for dozens of wagons, but there were only 8 left from the merchant’s train plus their power kart.  There was a fortified stone house that functioned as toll booth; beyond which was a massive wooden pier that traversed the gully and anchored itself to the cliff face 50ft from the near edge of the gap.  There were 8 wagons queued up and 2 on the lift platform about half way up the cliff face.  They stopped in front of the toll booth and saw an old man with a greasy apron and an engineering guild badge on his cap, he sees them and mechanically rattles out; “minimum lift fee is 10 gold, plus an additional fee of 1 gold per wagon after the first.  You pay. You queue up and wait your turn, it takes 10minutes up, and 10 minutes to wait at the top for any traffic that might be needing to come down.  Then 10 minutes down and the cycle repeats continuously from an hour after dawn until 4 of the clock.”  At this he points to the dials on the clock at the top of the steep pitched roof of the stone house.  He continues; “You’ve just enough time if you sign on to the queue now.”

Milo shoves Kemryn out in front to deal with the toll booth attendant; “Um, my commander here has us on an urgent mission to the Free City of Soulgrave.  Is there any way we can skip on passed this lot and be on our way?”

Old Engineer; “Hmm, you don’t say.  Well its tradition that we take traffic up in the order they apply.  Merchant Guilds decree… something about competition or somethin; but after you’ve paid and been searched, you’re free to ask the merchant if he will allow you jump ahead of him.  The good news for you is that if you’ll show me your orders, I can send the bill to the army.”  They show him the travel orders and he pulls out a form, scribbles a few things down and hands them back their papers.  He signs off on it and says; “Have a nice day.”

They wait until the empty lift has a few minutes until it settles onto the pier in front of them before they approach the merchant.  He’s a thin, jittery fellow bundled up in several layers of robes and stained leather armor.  He is obviously uncomfortable with their approach.  “What do you want?!  Hmm, brigands come to rob me openly?!”

Milo; “Relax friend.  We were just hoping to appeal to your kind heart to allow us to take the next lift to Tilik’s Drop.  We travel in the name of the Empire on a matter of great urgency.”

Merchant, puffing himself up; “No.  I’ve paid a hefty sum to lift this lot and am in rather a hurry myself.  I need to get these goods to the Free City of Soulgrave as soon as I can to beat the market.  The first train of the season gets the best deals, and with all the fuss in Silverton slowing me down and the reports of mayhem at the Soulgrave… I’m going to get rich!

Thingerlun; “But surely it won’t cost you to let us slip our way into the line with you?  There is room on the lift for two wagons, and you can send one of yours up with us just to save you some time.”
Merchant; “That’s the problem, that’ll leave me with one wagon still on the ground when the lift closes for the day.  That’ll force me to stay here ‘till they get the lifts going again in the morning.   
That’ll cost me plenty.”

Milo; “I’m sure we could come to a financial arrangement if that’s the problem.”

Merchant; “No.”  And he wanders back to check on his wagons, pointedly ignoring them.
They fall back to their kart to strategize.  Kemryn; “Ruthless chap.  Rather set on his profits and losses…”

Milo; “Well, I was hoping to try to reach another rest stop before it got too dark to travel.”

Thingerlun is puzzled by something, and it takes him a moment to realize it, but then he pipes up with; “Wait a minute.  If he’s been through Silverton, how come everyone we’ve talked to on the way here has m been complaining about the lack of traffic on the road?  The Griffon Rider said the road was clear.  Something doesn’t add up here.”

Milo; “Then we should investigate a bit I think.”

Thingerlun turns to Milo; “How about you, Hearn, Wysera, and Kemryn distract the Merchant while Lex and Bob check out the carts for contraband cargo or something.”

Lex; “And you?”

Thingerlun; “Syth and I will keep watch to see if anyone in town gets interested in what we’re doing.”

Milo; “Sounds good give us a little head start then start your search.”  The distraction committee from a living wall with their bodies and walk slowly up the line of wagons to screen the activities of their companions from view. 

A few moments later Lex and Bob spring silently into action with another fine display of synchronized ditch digging as they search the carts for anything that shouldn’t be there.  A few moments later there is a rather animated debate about profit versus morality and the fact that there were lives on the line gave them more than enough time to work their way to the head of the line of carts, but they’d found nothing out of the ordinary.  The lift had come to rest a few minutes before they finished the search of the wagons and the Merchant was eagerly trying to extricate himself from Milo and Hearn’s attention.  Bob signals to Wysera that they need more time and starts searching again heading back down the line of carts. She tells Milo who then gets a great smile and rushes to get in front of the Merchant; physically getting in his way to stop him.

Milo; “Wait!  OK, I see that you’re set on your way, but I was wondering if you’d heard one of the best jokes ever?”

Merchant; “WHAT!?  Get out of my way and stop prattling at me I have a schedule to keep.”

Milo; “No.  Wait.  It’s really funny.  You see there’s this invisible dragon who wanders into a bar with a chicken on its back…”  His voice fades as he leads the confused merchant back towards Wysera and the bard.  Lex finds that two of the wagons have cargo that conceals the fact that they have false bottoms.  She uses the ancient language of hand signs shared by ditch diggers everywhere to convey this information to Bob.  He sees what she is talking about, and this helps him to locate the hidden panel on the side of the wagon.  A quick search for traps shows none, and with Lex’s help he makes short work of the lock; the panel is hinged at the bottom so it opens and hangs from the underside of the wagon bed. 

The interior space the open panel reveals can’t be more than 2 and a half feet high and the chamber fills the entire 15ft long by 10ft wide wagon bed: inside there are male humanoids stacked 3 rows high, chained to each other and to the wagon.  The stench is nearly overwhelming.  They check the next cart and find that it is similarly filled, but with female humanoids.  Lex; “I’ll sneak over and tell Milo what we found while you work at getting their chains undone.”

Bob just nod affirmative and got to work.

Milo is still stammering his way through the world’s longest joke without a punch line when Lex whispers “Slaver.” In his ear, and without stopping or missing a beat changes the direction of the conversation to; “… so just what are you carrying that is so important that we cannot move along in front of you?”

Lex goes on to whisper the same into everyone else’s ear as she floated along invisibly above them all.  The Merchant splutters something about basic supplies like cloth and high grade iron and food.  He spins around slowly and sees the implacable faces surrounding him as they slowly draw their weapons.  For an instant the merchant seems to steel’s himself up as if to make a fight or to run; but then Sythrixis let out with a low growl as he flies over the merchant and he surrenders.  “I suppose you’ve found my cargo already?”

Milo; “Yes.  Have you anything else you’d like to tell us?  Like where did you get these slaves and why are you taking them to the Soulgrave?”

The merchant hesitates and then says; “Well I don’t know where they all come from, I just drive this leg of the trail.  It’s great money and there is always a need for fresh slaves in the markets of the Free City Soulgrave…  There are a lot of mouths to feed in that city of the dead.  It’s like I said: I’m transporting food.”

That’s the point where they knock him unconscious.  During all of this Kemryn, Bob, and Lex are helping to free the slaves and get them onto the lift While Hearn starts ministering to their injuries.  Hank gets their Kart and one of the merchant’s carts onto the lift and Wysera jumps on with the Merchant as it starts move upwards.

Milo and the rest head back into town looking for whoever passes as the authorities in this town and they are directed by the locals to the Mayor’s Office next door to the Inn.  They march their way into the office even though it is closing up for the night.

They are illuminated by the flickering yellow braziers lining the public square and they see a figure trying to skulk away from the office.  At Thingerlun’s command, Sythrixis pounces and they find the mayor squalling like a baby from pure terror.  “KEEP IT AWAY FROM ME!!  DON’T LET IT EAT ME!!  I…” Seeing the approaching wizard, warrior, and cleric of Ormazdd, the Mayor tries to pull rank; “I say!! Is this dragon your pet!?  Kindly call it off good sirs!  And you’d better have a good explanation for why your pet is out menacing the public!”

Milo; “We’ve discovered slave s being smuggled under your very nose and we find you sneaking off in the dark.  I think there’s a connection here of some kind.”  He loomed over the middle aged man in expensive, gold trimmed robes.

The Mayor paled to the point that he looked like he might die of fright right there on the spot; but continued, though in a meek, petulant voice, “You can’t prove a thing!”

Milo; “Well, we’ll just have to take you along with us to file a report with the clerics of Justica.” 
The mayor tries to run, but one hiss from Sythrixis and he soils his nice expensive robes and surrenders.  By the time they make their way over to the lift it is on its way back down and Lex is already there waiting for them.  She tells them as they come closer; “We’ve put the driver into chains in the secret hold of his own wagon.”

Wysera; “Good!  We’ve got someone else to put in there.”  And she shoves the quivering, mewling form of the Mayor towards Lex.

Thingerlun; “When we get to the top we should consider moving on rather than staying in town.  I don’t think these folks will take too kindly to us abducting their Mayor.”

Milo; “He’s a criminal after all… Slavery is illegal in the Empire, and he confessed.  We’re just taking him to trial, but I think you might be right.  Do you think we can make another rest stop before it gets too dark?  We’ve got less than four hours before true sunset.”

Lex; “It’s only a little more than 3 hours in between stops.  It’ll be dangerous, but I agree that it’s worth the effort.”

Twenty minutes later they were back on the road to The Free City of Soulgrave, most of the freed slaves stayed in town at Tilik’s Drop because they were too afraid to travel at night, but some stayed on board so that they could speak as witnesses against the slavers.  Three hours later they were waking up an ostler as they pulled into the yard and demanded service.

{Game clock suspended @ a little after 7pm 04/23/3200}

{Since I’m so behind on everything and one of the players was too ill to play at our regular session on 10/03; one of my players volunteered to run a quickie session of the latest beta test session for D&D next.  It was a great game that we (the players) managed to turn into DnD’s version of Survivor.  Maybe I’ve just gotten used to the DCC system, but D&D next system isn’t too bad.  Though we were playing 7th level characters that really only felt like 3rd level characters for all their effective power…  It was still a lot of fun and kudos to the DM for pulling it off on short notice.  :D   Our next session will be on 11/17 so I’ll be posting sometime after that. }

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